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Patients with pre-existing health conditions buoyed by high court ruling

June 28, 2012 |  5:03 pm

Several Los Angeles-area patients with preexisting medical conditions expressed relief Thursday as news spread about the Supreme Court decision upholding President Obama's healthcare plan.

The law guarantees coverage for patients with conditions that companies often have used to deny health insurance.

Doug Ogden, 50, of Beverly Hills said sleep apnea rendered him uninsurable for years. He is now enrolled in California’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, which was implemented as part of the federal healthcare reform legislation. The program covers patients until 2014, when insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions.

“I am so relieved,” Ogden said after the decision was announced. “It’s been so frightening to me personally, worrying about this for so long.”

As a small-business owner, Ogden said he is not only excited to have insurance himself, but he also said he should now be able to afford insurance for his employees. 

Despite years of working, making payrolls and paying taxes, rent and other bills, he said not being able to secure health insurance made him feel “so vulnerable ... like I wasn’t really an American.”

Ogden said more needs to be done to help thousands of people not covered by the Affordable Care Act. “It is not universal healthcare. We have got to cover everyone,” he said. “But for myself, it’s a security blanket that helps me sleep better at night.”

Carolyn Cunningham, 61, of Studio City, whose preexisitng conditions include glaucoma and an auto-immune condition, said, “I feel that there’s hope now.” 

“I’ve just felt that people with pre-existing conditions really are discriminated against,” she said.

Cunningham also has joined the state's transitional insurance program, which allows her to pay just $25 a month for eye drops that otherwise cost $250.

As a mental health professional, Cunningham said healthcare reform would also help her clients who do not want to be diagnosed with depression, for fear it would saddle them with a pre-existing condition.  “Here they were paying for [healthcare] and were afraid to use it,” she said.

Another provision of the healthcare law upheld by the Supreme Court’s decision closes the so-called Medicare “doughnut hole,” a gap in prescription coverage that requires seniors and disabled patients to pay full price for medications above an cost limit.

Jan Steckel, 49, a former pediatrician in Oakland, receives Medicare for a disability: three back operations left her unable to stand or sit for long periods of time. Under healthcare reform, Steckel can get brand name drugs at half price after she exceeds the coverage limit. Without the help, she would pay $4,500 out of pocket for her dozen medications every year.

“This has allowed my husband and me to pay our mortgage and stay in our home,” Steckel said.  

Steckel said she was “elated” by Thursday’s Supreme Court decision. “It’s not just good for me as a disabled person on Medicare.... It’s good for my friends, some of whom are poor and others have preexisting conditions,” she said.


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-- Erin Loury