I’ve never had a pre-existing condition. I was born and raised in Phoenix, where I ran my first marathon at 16 years old. I won my first 50-miler and signed up for my first 100-miler soon after. I’ve run 23 marathons in my life. I’m 32 years old, I’m healthy. In early April, I nearly lost my life to COVID-19.
It’s now my pre-existing condition. And if you survived COVID-19, it’s yours, too.
When I found out that President Donald Trump planned to name Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my first reaction was, “I’m going to have to pay all of my health care out of pocket.” I knew he’d been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through the courts, and Barrett has been critical of the law.
I first showed COVID-19 symptoms in early April. At first, I couldn’t taste anything. Fever and chills quickly escalated to fearing for my life. My heart wasn’t just beating quickly, it was pounding, constantly. Even during ultramarathons on Arizona’s hottest days, my heart has never worked so hard.
I barely had the breath to walk from my bedroom to the bathroom. When I did, it took 45 minutes of focused breathing until I felt safe. I’d have episodes where I’d become lightheaded that my chest would ache, my vision would blur, and all I could do was wait for it to pass. I went to bed afraid I wouldn’t wake up. This continued for over a week.
I was relieved when I felt 100% recovered over the summer. But in August, I relapsed. I had a migraine for days, and my heart started behaving erratically again. These and other ailments appear and disappear, bringing me a new set of symptoms to manage each day.
I am lucky to have health insurance. Still, I’ve accrued over $2,500 in medical bills since April, trying to make sense of these emerging symptoms. It is a luxury to be young, healthy and to assume your insurance works when you need it. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover, but I know I’ve left that mindset for good. And I’m not alone.
A significant number of COVID survivors have experienced severe symptoms months after recovery, developed new conditions, or suffered permanent damage to critical parts of their body. We’re about to face a lifetime of specialists, surgeries, visits and procedures. It might be a new experience, or it might stem from a lifetime of managing chronic conditions. We might be scared or alone or unconscious, or we might simply mess up and forget to check coverage beforehand. But it can’t be this hard. We have to be able to afford and access health care.
Trump has promised for four years to protect our health care. Even though he received top-notch COVID-19 treatment at Walter Reed Hospital, he’s spearheading a lawsuit to repeal the ACA, without a replacement.
Because of the ACA, an insurance company can’t discriminate against people for having pre-existing conditions. Repealing ACA would gut those protections for millions of Americans. Your insurance shouldn’t be allowed to throw you off your plan for getting sick during a pandemic. Regardless of age, income or political party, our lawmakers should see just how dangerous this is to every American. If the president of the United States isn’t safe from COVID-19, none of us are. If it comes down to me versus the insurance company, I already know who wins and who pays.
The reality is, we cannot trust our current leaders to protect our health. Even though COVID-19 has now hit the halls of Washington, Republicans in the U.S. Senate will do all they can to confirm Barrett in time to rule on the lawsuit to strike down the ACA.
If you are one of the 7 million COVID-19 survivors in the United States, you now have a pre-existing condition. In the middle of a pandemic and a recession, we need our leaders to protect us. Instead, they are working to take away our lifelines.