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Cancer Patient Says Condition Will Dictate Life Choices With ACA Repeal


We want to talk a bit more about this key question of how the proposed Republican health care bill could affect people who need health care, particularly people with chronic or life-threatening health problems.

Molly Grace Young is a self-employed singer and music teacher living in Baltimore. Last year, at the age of 29, Young was able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Just a month later, she felt a lump in her breast and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Luckily, her cancer treatment was covered. But under the proposed Republican health care plan, the extent of her future coverage is uncertain. Molly Young came in a few days ago. And I started our conversation by asking her where she is in her cancer treatment.

MOLLY YOUNG: I've had two surgeries. And I am two doses away from being done with chemotherapy. But I will have immunotherapy for a year and six weeks of radiation and five years of hormone therapy. And, yeah, it's a road. It's process. But I'm getting there.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of how much all this would have cost without insurance? Or like, I mean...

YOUNG: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...I know, like, looking at those bills has to be traumatic...

YOUNG: (Laughter) yeah.

MARTIN: ...But have you ever kind of figured out, like, what the costs of all this treatment would have been?

YOUNG: Yeah. We're about six months into a treatment process. And so far, out-of-pocket would have been over $120,000. I have a friend who's going through chemo who every single dose was $25,000. So that was $150 for her right off the bat without anything else. As hard as I might work, I'm not going to be making that much.

MARTIN: You don't have $120,000 sitting around?

YOUNG: No, I really don't (laughter).

MARTIN: And just to reiterate for people who are wondering, like, OK, well, what about an employer? What about, like, that - you're self-employed. You didn't have an employer who offered insurance.

YOUNG: Right. It's not that I'm unemployed or that I don't work. I work very hard. But no one single job is a full-time job for me. It's kind of a patchwork of a lot of different employments.

MARTIN: You were telling us that one of the reasons that you decided to speak up and, you know, talk about this publicly was that you have been following the efforts to repeal and replace, you know, Obamacare. Like, how have you been following that and what has struck you about that?

YOUNG: I distinctly remember driving home from one of my scans - one of my MRIs, which they're terrifying, especially if you already have cancer and you know they're just excavating for more. And you're wondering, not even will I die, but how fast.

And I was driving home from that and I was listening to live coverage of debate, and it was just horrifying. It sounded so inhumane to me that people were arguing about whether or not people in my position should be allowed to be cared for and be saved because without coverage, without this treatment, I would just die and that's it.

And it's terrifying to hear how little people like me can matter in these issues. We're not really focusing on actual human lives. We're just looking at dollars and cents, which is a very morbid way to go about it.

MARTIN: When you get through this stage, you will be considered a person with a pre-existing condition. Is that a concern? Because part of this new iteration of the GOP health care plan would not require insurance plans to cover pre-existing conditions. So is that a concern?

YOUNG: Oh, absolutely. Cancer is a lifelong sentence. No matter what - no matter if I get through the next year or the next five years and everything's fine and I'm eventually, hopefully, pronounced with no evidence of disease, NED, I have many, many years to worry about, not only a recurrence of breast cancer, but any other type of cancer in my body is now an elevated risk because I have been a cancer patient. So I'm absolutely a walking pre-existing condition for the rest of my life.

And as my life changes, if I have to sign up for a new plan somewhere and it's in a state that decides that they don't need to protect me, I will be in a position where I need more care than most people, but I have less access to it, which is a little unfair (laughter) in my opinion, but yeah.

MARTIN: So you really see it as something that can dictate the future course of your life, like where you can move and what job opportunities you can take.

YOUNG: Oh, absolutely. To look at it being a state-by-state issue, for someone like me or people with diabetes - the list goes on of all sorts of health concerns. And access to essential health benefits - we know that mammograms are one of the biggest reasons we do catch breast cancer early on in many patients. So if we suddenly have groups of states in our country that won't provide that, that's really a death sentence for plenty of Americans.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I did - I do feel I need to ask you, though, if the people who are the proponents of this new approach or this - the Republican approach, argue that it would create more choice and lower costs. And I just have to ask you whether you think that's possibly true.

YOUNG: As I said before - trying to educate myself about it - to me, as a patient, from the outside looking in, that looks like a great way to drive up costs and create a profit-based market to make money off of people like me who are dying for no reason.

I didn't do anything to earn breast cancer. It's not in my family. They tested my genes. It's just bad luck. And the same way we as a country can look to any kind of natural disaster that just sort of happens and we all want to reach out and help one another, I think that's no different than wanting to create more of a community in terms of health insurance and not have it be based on who can afford it.

And it's very frustrating to me to hear lawmakers discuss this knowing that they're in a tax bracket that they could probably take these costs on themselves, if they had to, out of pocket and also knowing that they're not subjecting themselves to the same plan that we have to take on.

MARTIN: That's Molly Grace Young. She spoke with us from our Washington, D.C., studios. Tomorrow, we will have several more conversations with people with different perspectives and opinions about the American health care system, including a deep dive on how a single-payer health system would work. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.