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August 22, 2018

Pre-existing conditions are under attack and Alabama stands to lose most

Joshua Hillman, a bright young man from Prattville, Alabama, is heading to law school this fall with the hopes of someday becoming an advocate for others who need help.

Joshua knows firsthand what it’s like to face a daily struggle and to do so with a positive attitude. You see, Joshua has lived with Cystic Fibrosis for as long as he can remember. He’s used to the routine by now: an hour or more of breathing exercises first thing in the morning and countless medications throughout the day to keep the symptoms of this incurable condition at bay?—?at least on the good days.

Joshua’s older brother, Dominic, has Cystic Fibrosis, too.

That means every major decision their parents made from the moment of their diagnoses onward centered on getting their boys access to the best health insurance and medical care possible. It meant they would move from Mississippi to Alabama to be closer to Children’s of Alabama. It meant they took or kept jobs because they could get good insurance that would cover their children’s expensive and life-long conditions. It meant that they constantly worried about how their two boys with pre-existing conditions would find and afford health coverage when they were adults and trying to make it on their own. At least, that’s what they feared until the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which prevented insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions and ended the practice of imposing annual or lifetime caps on coverage costs. For them, the ACA was truly a Godsend.

Joshua and his brother aren’t alone.

One in three Alabamians under age 65 lives with a pre-existing condition that would’ve left them with no health insurance or higher-cost insurance before the ACA was passed. That ranks Alabama among the states with the highest rates of residents with pre-existing conditions in the country and makes our state one of those hurt most if protection for pre-existing conditions is rolled back or eliminated.

And that’s not just a possibility?—?these protections are under serious threat because the Trump Administration is refusing to defend key provisions of the ACA in court. In responding to a lawsuit brought by the State of Texas, the U.S. Department of Justice abandoned its defense of the Affordable Care Act’s most popular protections, including the requirement that insurance companies do not deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

This is a highly unusual move and unfortunately appears to be just another effort to undermine the health care law. Instead of working with Congress to improve and strengthen the health care system, and after failed attempts to repeal the ACA, the Administration is resorting to sabotaging it altogether.

To make matters worse for Joshua and the more than 900,000 Alabamians who suffer from a pre-existing condition, the State of Alabama has joined Texas in its lawsuit.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, three-fourths of voters agree that these protections are very important to preserve. Seven in 10 agree that insurance companies shouldn’t be able to charge sick people more money. Nearly six in 10 say they live in a household with at least one person who has a pre-existing condition.

This is an issue that disproportionately impacts Alabamians?—?and we need to wake up to the risks of losing these protections. This is something that affects people every day from every walk of life and it shouldn’t be a political issue. This is a nonpartisan issue that we need to work together to try to solve.

If we don’t, families like Joshua’s will have to go back to worrying about how their boys will get access to the life-saving care they rely on every day. It will mean people who’ve survived cancer or live with disabilities will face new exhausting battles with their insurance companies. It will mean people with conditions from diabetes to heart disease to acne could be denied coverage or be charged exorbitant prices to get coverage.

Alabamians deserve better. Families like the Hillmans deserve to know they’ll have access to affordable, quality health care. Period.

That is why I will continue to oppose efforts by the Trump Administration and those in Congress who want to roll back these important protections for Alabamians.

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