“Thank God we have insurance.”
I’ll never forget the relief in his voice as we drove home from a session of radiation treatment back in December of 2013. Andrew, a 26-year-old transgender man who would soon become my husband, had been diagnosed with cancer three months earlier.
While he was one of the fortunate Americans able to access health insurance through his employer, he knew that if he had found himself in different circumstances, he may have made a different decision. He may have chosen not to get health insurance.
As a young man, Andy thought little about his own health. Cancer seemed like a disease that largely impacted people far older than he. But driving back from treatment that day, aware of the importance of the care he was receiving and cognizant of the medical bills that would be piling up if not for his health insurance, Andy considered himself lucky. He had health insurance.
This coming December 15, a critical window to sign up for health insurance closes, a deadline you may have missed due to the Trump administration’s rollback of public education efforts around the Affordable Care Act. But despite its well-publicized efforts to repeal the ACA, the lifesaving law very much remains in place, continuing to provide vital options for potential patients of every age.
Through cost-reducing subsidies and comprehensive plans that meet the needs of patients, many of the Americans who were once priced out of health insurance now have affordable options available to them through Healthcare.gov. And for our LGBTQ community, the law and its plans have had a particular impact on our health and access to care.
The elimination of preexisting condition bans has opened up insurance to millions, including many living with HIV. For a community that disproportionately lives at or near the poverty line, the expansion of Medicaid has already saved countless LGBTQ lives. And the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections have helped to dramatically expand coverage of medically necessary transition-related care for transgender people, while more broadly combatting sex discrimination of all kinds in federally funded health care programs.
Few pieces of federal legislation have done more to advance the well-being of the LGBTQ community. Indeed, in the nearly eight years since passage, the ACA has already helped to reduce the uninsured rate among LGBTQ people.
Unfortunately, many who qualify for affordable, comprehensive health care under the ACA have yet to avail themselves of its potentially lifesaving coverage. Among those who have not yet signed up are some of my peers, “young invisibles,” young adults whose concerns for their health remain a distant thought; people who share the same mind-set Andy had in the hours, days, and years before his cancer diagnosis.
Sadly, even health insurance and access to care weren’t enough to stop the spread of the deadly disease inside Andy’s body, but for many it does. And for him — for us — it offered time and some peace of mind.
It meant more life together. It meant traveling and laughing and dreaming. And it meant he lived long enough for us to marry, one last bucket list item made possible by the life-prolonging care he was able to receive.
Thank God he had insurance.
The vast majority of people our age will thankfully never have to face what Andy endured, but for many that will be because they took the steps to take care of their health and signed up for health insurance.
Before he passed, Andy urged our fellow LGBTQ community members to educate themselves on the plans offered under the ACA and, if possible, to sign up for insurance before they potentially needed it most.
In an Advocate op-ed during the first open enrollment period under the ACA in 2013, Andy wrote, “I hope that my community will listen when I say — please, take care of yourselves. Be out, be healthy, and get covered.”
And now, as his widow, with the deadline fast approaching, my request to you is to please listen to Andy. Visit Healthcare.gov before December 15, review your options, and talk to your friends and family to make sure they do the same. It could be one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.
SARAH MCBRIDE is the national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. She is the author of the forthcoming book Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality.