Local business owner Julie Simons is sick of the health care tug-of-war. She’s a member of the new health care advocacy group, Arizonans United for Health Care Coalition. They’re working to inform people about healthcare issues, including how to enroll in the Affordable Care Act.
“We’re promised life, liberty and the pursuit of justice, and all those things require health,” Simons said. “I didn’t put it on my calendar, March 26: breast cancer diagnosis.”
Simons was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, but it wasn’t the first of her health problems.
She opened her online skincare business, Skin Obsession, in 2007, producing, labeling and bottling homemade peels, scrubs, cleansers and more. She was also working as a research specialist at the University of Arizona at the time and found out she had an adrenal tumor.
Removing it required major surgery, and she took medical leave from her job. Luckily, her business was taking off. When she recovered, she took it on full time, and was able to support herself and her daughter Amber, who was 15 at the time.
When her insurance through the college ended, she was shocked to find out that because she now had a pre-existing condition, her insurance would be $1,250 a month, with a deductible around $4,000.
“That was fun for a new business,” she said.
She tried to get into a high-risk pool, which was the only option for many people with a pre-existing condition who had been shut out of the individual insurance market before the ACA. Simons said “the list was a mile long.”
After the ACA passed, she found a plan that cost her $250 a month, with a $4,000 deductible. But her troubles weren’t over. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she needed six rounds of chemotherapy and each had a $24,000 price tag.
“When you’re looking at a bill for a single treatment of cancer, you happily write that $4,000 check,” she said.
Simons recently went to the ACA website to look for a plan for herself and five of her seven employees. But she found navigating the website challenging.
There are organizations that can help, and guiding people to those organizations and helping them understand what’s available to them, through the ACA, is something the Health Care Coalition is working on.
The group’s senior organizer, Alma Hernandez, said they’re “making sure people know the ACA hasn’t gone away.”
One big change the Trump administration made was shortening the enrollment period from three months to six weeks, now Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The administration also cut funding for advertising that lets people know it’s time to sign up from $100 million to $10 million and cut in-person assistance by 40 percent, according to Snopes.
Marana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Stolmaker said there’s too many unknowns for the chamber to currently take a position on health care. He knows people who saw their premiums rise under the ACA, but if Congress is going to repeal it, “there needs to be a replacement,” he said.
The Health Care Coalition is non-partisan, “bringing awareness and holding representatives accountable,” Hernandez said.
Right now, its energy is directed at Rep. Martha McSally for voting to repeal the ACA without something the group considers adequate to replace it.
“The same goes if it were Grijalva that was voting against healthcare,” Hernandez said.
Despite the benefits, Simons said the ACA hasn’t always been the best option for her business. Last year, she bought her insurance directly through the insurance agency UnitedHealthcare and paid almost $3,000 a month for herself and five employees.
She found the ACA hard to navigate and called United to see what it could offer. When she got off the phone, she had signed off on a plan.
Two of Simons’ employees are her parents, who receive their health insurance through Medicare. Her mother had kidney and breast cancer, and her father had polio as a child. Simons is concerned if it weren’t for the regulation around insuring people with pre-existing conditions that’s written into the ACA, her parents wouldn’t have adequate health insurance.
“At this point, I think people are afraid to cough and get labeled with a pre-existing condition,” she said. “There goes your retirement. There goes your kid’s college. There goes your home.”
The Health Care Coalition is directing people to the Cover Arizona website to find local assistance on buying health insurance. A search of 25 miles surrounding one local zip code revealed 22 organizations that are helping, though many require an appointment a week in advance.
“Every single person in this country deserves health care,” Simons said. “If you guys don’t want the ACA, fine. Give us what Trump promised us then.”