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How could health insurance change your life?

How will access to health insurance change the lives of uninsured Americans?

Aqualyn Laury.

Polls show that most Americans aren't happy with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But there are millions of Americans under 65 with pre-existing health conditions who've had to go without health insurance. 

Until health care exchanges, established by the law, begin enrolling those folks on Tuesday.

One of those people is 41-year-old Aqualyn Laury. Seven years ago, she had gallbladder surgery at an Atlanta hospital, and began an odyssey through the healthcare system that she hopes will finally end tomorrow, when the insurance exchanges open.

Just weeks after her surgery,  Laury, a marketing consultant in business for herself, said “calls were starting to come in.” 

Bill collectors were asking, "'When are you going to pay this, when you going to pay that?'" she said. "I had no way of paying anything."

It turns out Laury’s insurance company, which she had signed on with just before having her surgery, didn’t check her medical history until after the claims started rolling in. The company termed her genetic blood disorder a pre-existing condition, ripped up her policy and stuck her with a $50,000 bill.

"The fire and the anger I have for that insurance company that did that to me," she said. "They and others like them do that to other people every day and get away with it. How do you fight that?"

Most people don’t have to. As many as 82 million Americans with pre-existing conditions get their insurance at work, so they can’t be denied.

And that was Laury’s story for a while.

She worked for a hot start-up in Cambridge, and spent years at Proctor and Gamble. But then she went out on her own, and joined the 25 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, who don’t have coverage.

Since then, Laury’s bounced back and forth between being insurance and not having coverage, a dangerous proposition for her.

"In May, I had a heart attack," she said. "And it was, I believe a result of not getting the maintenance I was supposed to have from my genetic blood disorder."

Laury says she’s lucky her coverage, even though it’s just temporary, had kicked in in time. Without it, she says, there’s no way she would have gone to the hospital to find out why she was in pain.

"I would have said, 'You know what, let me find another remedy. Maybe I should take some medicine, maybe it’s indigestion.' I was coming up with anything, maybe it’s not a heart attack," she said.

Laury says not being able to get insurance because of a pre-existing condition forces you to make choices that, rationally,  you’d never make. Like when she had her gallbladder removed.

"I would never have imagined a day when I didn’t have to make those kinds of decisions about my body, worried about what the insurance company would say," she said. "That’s what Oct. 1 represents to me."

Laury admits she has no idea what plans she’ll find on Virginia’s exchange tomorrow. Maybe they’ll be too expensive for her to afford.  Maybe there’ll be glitches. 

But at least she’ll have a choice.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

Aqualyn Laury.

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I thought this was a good piece about an issue most people don't know (or care) about. There is another group that has gotten no attention: those of us with insurance AND pre-existing conditions. We have been held hostage by our insurance companies for years. The rates go up almost 20% per year, and we can't change insurers to keep rates down (which is how the private insurance game is played), because we now have a "pre-existing condition." You should also look into what qualifies as a pre-existing condition. People would be shocked about what common, simple things are included. Many, many people that currently have insurance through their employers would never qualify for insurance on their own (but for the ACA). I really believe that if more people understood these problems, they might have more enthusiasm for this law, and less disdain for it. There but for one pink slip goes each of them . . . .

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, do a follow up piece with Laury in two or three years. I'm curious how her last statement will fare.

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