On Wednesday, as US Senate Republicans took the first step towards gutting the hugely popular Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), Colorado resident Prakash Murthy felt the world closing in upon him. “I am scared to death, literally. The end of ACA is also the end of the road for me. Anyone who wants Obamacare to go only has to look at me and my young family to realize the horror of it all,” says the 44-year-old Indian Ameican from Bengaluru, who was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, a virulent form of brain cancer, on Dec 9, 2016.
Murthy is one among millions of Americans who will lose access to quality medical care if the incoming President comes good on his threat of scrapping the Affordable Care Act while still “working on a replacement.” The ACA has ensured that Murthy would not be denied health insurance based on a preexisting condition.
Till the cancer diagnosis came, Murthy had led a very active life, as a freelance web developer working out of Colorado, a marathoner and father of a three-year-old girl. The cancer had crept upon him without warning. Not until after he collapsed following a bout of nausea and disorientation on November 14, did he even know that he was face to face with what is colloquially known as The Terminator among cancers. After he was rushed into emergency brain surgery the same day to remove a tumor, Murthy did not take much time off from work during the following weeks: his $70,000 a year income is all that his family of three has. His monthly insurance premium of $687 a month, obtained through the Obamacare Marketplace Exchange, appeared expensive initially, but not anymore: “The insurance paid nearly $175,000 through my brain surgery ordeal and the follow up treatments. So I would say I have been very fortunate to have had a good medical insurance.”
He is looking at years of expensive cancer treatment, after the surgery: six weeks of radiation therapy and chemo, followed by six more weeks of a higher dose of chemotherapy, and depending on the outcome, an even more aggressive treatment plan in the months ahead. In a post-ACA world, he will have to look for a new insurer who would be willing to overlook his preexisting condition. Such insurers do not exist in the cannibalistic world of US medical insurance.
He cannot help that ‘the end is near’ fear: “I am not trying to be melodramatic or spook my family and friends, but if I cannot have affordable medical insurance, the ACA repeal could literally mean my death.” The cost for just six weeks of chemo and radiation, even in the very affordable healthcare facility that Murthy goes to, is upwards of $40,000, most of which now comes out of his insurance.
“There is no known cure for GBM. My best hope is to make sure the tumor does not return. Getting help from family, friends, and strangers through a GoFundMe campaign is an option, but the expenses are quite likely to be beyond the reach of the goodness of people.”
As the US gets ready to grapple with a Trump presidency, Murthy waits, along with countless other Americans, hoping that Obamacare would somehow survive, even under a different name: “Let them call it whatever they want, let them just not take away my lifeline. Also, there is still time (for the public) to influence the outcome (of the ACA vote). They just need to call their representatives and tell them to let it stay. If people just did that, I may still have hope.”