Column: As a small business owner who has MS, here's why I'm scared of GOP plans to gut Obamacare

Published April 25, 2017

I own a small Web development company in Tampa, and I suffer from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder. As a small business owner, I do not have access to health insurance through an employer, and coverage is necessary for me to receive the ongoing treatment and medicine that I need.

Without insurance and the help of the drug manufacturer's payment assistance program, I don't know how I would afford my semi-annual MRIs or my medication, which runs about $7,000 per month.

Any time without medicine can lead to MS relapses, and every relapse has the potential to leave me more disabled than before. If you want to know how important this medicine is, look at people who have had MS for 30 years or more. Disease-modifying medicine has only been around for the past 15 years, so those who have been dealing with the disease for much longer are often severely disabled and in wheelchairs.

When I decided to start my own business, I planned to join my wife's insurance. But when we realized her premium would jump from $50 to about $650 per month, I shopped around for a cheaper option. Unfortunately, without the protections of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies were allowed to automatically deny me based on my pre-existing condition.

As one of the tens of millions of Americans with a pre-existing condition, I've been paying close attention to the debate in Washington over repealing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The latest developments have me scared.

Congressional Republicans are drafting a new version of their bill to repeal the ACA. That bill would likely once again make it possible for health insurance corporations to discriminate against people like me with a pre-existing condition, denying me the care I need to live a decent life.

Just like the bill they almost voted on in March, the latest GOP proposal could take health care away from 24 million people, slash Medicaid and raise health care costs for all families in order to give $465 billion in tax cuts to the very wealthy and the big insurance and drug companies. It would allow companies to charge older people five times as much as younger consumers and increase costs for people in their 50s and 60s by thousands of dollars a year.

But what's new in the latest Republican plan? In an effort to win the votes of the extreme right, the Republicans are now planning to allow insurance companies to charge whatever they want to people with pre-existing conditions and to sell junk health insurance — specifically, policies that take your money but barely offer any coverage. In short, they've made a bad bill worse. Some of the new provisions include:

• Insurance companies would effectively be allowed to charge people with pre-existing conditions whatever they want. The Donald Trump/GOP proposal guts the protection against health insurers hiking premiums for people with pre-existing conditions.

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• Insurers could sell bare-bones insurance that doesn't require specific coverage. This would allow companies to not cover hospital visits, doctor visits, prescriptions, lab tests, mental health, maternity and newborn care, preventive care and substance abuse. There's a reason these are called "essential health benefits" in the existing law.

• Insurance companies would be allowed to cap how much they pay for your care. Eliminating essential health benefits also eliminates the prohibition on health insurance companies putting annual or lifetime limits on how much they pay for your care.

• People who actually need health care would be charged more. Health insurance companies will sell bare-bones plans at a low price and hike the prices of coverage for care people actually need, with the biggest hikes for people who need medical care most.

The president and the Republicans promised their proposal would cover everybody and reduce costs. They said they would never go back to the days when insurance companies could deny care to people like me with pre-existing conditions. It's time they kept their promise and stopped trying to repeal Obamacare until they have a better plan that truly does solve some of our current health insurance issues without anyone losing coverage.

Joseph Nammour owns Nammour Designs, a small Web development company in Tampa. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.