About two years ago, my boss asked me to co-author a brief defending the Affordable Care Act in the first federal court to consider the law’s constitutionality. My response was more or less what any competent observer of the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent would have said at the time — “I’ll get right on it, but do we really think that it’s necessary?” Like pretty much everyone who practiced constitutional law in 2010, I overestimated either the integrity or the competence of many federal judges, and wrongly assumed they would each follow the constitutional text and nearly two hundred years of precedent establishing that Obamacare is constitutional.
As it became increasingly clear that many judges were more interested in their own ideology than they were in faithfully and impartially applying the Constitution, I became more and more involved in health reform’s defense. Throughout this effort, I believed this fight was essential to the millions of Americans who, unlike me, either cannot afford health insurance or who risk becoming uninsured because of their preexisting health conditions.
As it turns out, I spent those two years fighting for people exactly like me.
Three weeks ago, I left work in an ambulance and a great deal of pain. In the night that followed, doctors determined that I had a bowel rupture leaking digestive fluid into my abdominal cavity, and a truly outstanding surgeon removed about 8 inches of my small intestine. A few days later, my doctors told me I have Crohn’s disease, a chronic condition in which my immune system sometimes decides to go rogue and attack my own digestive tract.
The upshot of this is that, in one night, I transformed from the kind of patient health insurers drool over — a young, healthy man whose biggest medical expense in the last ten years was a broken toe incurred during a kung fu class — to what those same insurers deem a “high risk” patient. If I lost my job tomorrow, or if I left CAP and ThinkProgress to start my own business, it is very unlikely I would be able to afford health insurance once my current plan runs out. Indeed, without Obamacare, it is reasonably likely that I would not be able to obtain insurance at any price. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, however, the insurance industry’s practice of denying care to high risk patients like myself will soon be illegal.
So let’s be clear, there are people in this world who have the right to complain; I am not one of them. I have a wonderful girlfriend who took care of me when I was unable to sit up and when I had to get out of my hospital bed eight times in one night to go to the bathroom. I come to work every day and spend the next ten or eleven hours working to turn my moral values into a reality. I am blessed with hard working and dedicated colleagues who are some of my closest friends. And I’ve somehow managed to find an organization that is willing to pay me a salary and offer me generous health benefits to do this. I am one of the most fortunate people in the world.
But I am also deeply grateful that the Supreme Court did the right thing last month. Because of Obamacare, I will never have to know what it is like to fear that my next trip to the doctor could be a ticket to bankruptcy. And when the law takes full effect in 2014, millions of Americans just like me will wake up free of this fear for the rest of their lives.