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Column: Strengthening, Not Blocking, Health Care Law

I am one of millions of Americans waiting for the Affordable Care Act to be put into law so that I can have some relief from my troubles with our broken health care system. March 23 marked the two-year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The health care law has accomplished a lot in the last two years and is already helping millions of Virginia’s seniors, adults with pre-existing condition, young adults, children and women.

But every time I turn on the television I see another politician trying to block the health care law. As I wait for my relief I am disheartened to see politicians who want to block the law before I have a chance to benefit.

I am a self-employed piano teacher and pianist. I have supported myself for 25 years in this manner, and have managed to buy a townhouse and accumulate a small retirement account.

But in 2004, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and ongoing hormonal therapy. I was fortunate to be able to continue to work full time through all that, missing a total of about five days of teaching. I am thrilled to report that I am winning my battle against breast cancer, but am now basically an indentured servant to my insurance company and health care providers.

In 2000 before I was diagnosed, my monthly insurance premium was under $300. In 2011, about 45 percent of my gross (not net--gross) income went directly to health care costs. My insurance premiums have skyrocketed and the deductible has increased. I just received my renewal notice, and once again I’m facing a double-digit percentage increase in costs. I am barely keeping my head above water. I have cancelled my daily newspaper, my cable TV, and anything else that is not essential to my business. I have taken renters into my townhouse. Obviously I cannot shop around for a lower premium--no one else will sell me insurance at this point due to pre-existing conditions. Once the health care law is fully implemented in 2014, pre-existing conditions will be a thing of the past. But until then, I will struggle.

In the midst of my struggle to stay afloat, I cannot help but look longingly at my tax dollars as they go to failed investment bankers. I have a great product, conducted my business ethically and honestly, and believe I deserve to stay in business just as much as they do, but health care costs are making that difficult. I don't deserve to end up on public assistance, and I know that wouldn't be good for me, the economy, or the musical education of my students. I have stacks of letters from parents who say I changed their lives and those of their children, for the better.

My experience with the health care industry leaves me no doubt that we need reform. We need to strengthen, not block, the health care law.

For me, health reform cannot come soon enough. There are many ways the Affordable Care Act attempts to bridge the gap between now and when the law is fully implemented in 2012. The Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan (PCIP) was created under the Affordable Care Act and helps many people who have an illness but are struggling to afford care. PCIP was designed to bridge the gap between now and 2014 when the Exchanges are set up and pre-existing condition discrimination is ended for good. Unfortunately, I cannot join the Virginia Pre-Existing Conditions Plan because I am unwilling to risk being uninsured for six months, as is required. But for many, PCIP has been the difference between life and death.

While I wait for full-implementation I continue to pay an outrageous percentage of my income towards health care. I feel that the amount one pays for health care be limited to a certain percentage of one’s income. No one should work simply to afford health care. The Affordable Care Act will address this issue. Many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, like the Health Benefits Exchange, will peg your health insurance costs to your income so that people like me will not have to pay HALF their income in premiums.

While I await much of the Affordable Care Act to be implemented, a couple consumer provisions that have already gone into place are helping me. Already, there is an end to lifetime caps on care. As a cancer survivor, I understand how easy it is to rack up an unbelievable amount of medical bills.

And perhaps most importantly, insurance companies are no longer allowed to drop you if you get sick. If the Supreme Court upholds the health care law, I will be helped by an end to pre-existing conditions and may be much better of in the Health Benefits Exchange, which will be created as part of the health care law.

I want our politicians and the Supreme Court justices to know that there are many of us hard-working Virginians hanging on by our fingernails, hoping that the health care system will be reformed so that health is the main priority, not profit margins.

The writer is a Reston resident.