Top health leaders of Champaign-Urbana address students on Affordable Care Act

The auditorium at the College of Medicine filled up with medical students on Monday night who still had questions about the Affordable Care Act, which was passed March 23, 2010. Professor Robert Rich, of the Institute of Government & Public Affairs; Bruce Wellman, former CEO and president of Carle Foundation Hospital; and Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers, explained the nearly 1,000-page piece of legislation to the students in two hours. 

The act is designed to increase the number of people with insurance and make insurance more affordable, Rich said. Before the act, an insurance company could drop a customer because of pre-existing conditions. 

“I can’t tell you how many cases I’ve had over the years — one example comes to mind of a lady who had been falling,” Lennhoff said.

After one fall, the lady went to the emergency room. When she got a CT scan, the doctors discovered that she had cancerous brain tumors. She said that after she began her treatments, her health insurance provider decided to bail.

“Well then, her insurance company sent her a refund for her last quarterly payment and dropped her coverage,” she said. “She had no place to go — we ended up helping her — but can you imagine being scared for your life and finding out your ticket to health care has been canceled?”

Lennhoff, who has a “very rare and aggressive” form of thyroid cancer, said people need insurance not only for treatment but for spotting diseases at their initial stages. She said she never would have known she had cancer if it were not for having health insurance and access to primary care. 

Although the Affordable Care Act expands health insurance to more people, problems can still fester. Rich said the website for applying for health care has been a disaster, and the country is nowhere near its target mark of newly insured Americans. 

President Barack Obama also said applicants for health insurance could keep their current plan if they wanted, but Rich said that is not in his power, as that decision is up to the insurance provider.

And because the growing tide of newly insured Americans will need to be paid for, future generations will have a challenge in funding universal health care. 

Still, Rich said the ambitious legislation is a positive move. It’s not a move that has an easy-button to fix, he said.

“There are no solutions, only trade-offs,” Wellman said. 

First-year medical student Jennifer Alvarez wondered about how her future as a medical professional would be affected. But Wellman said people should not steer away from being a doctor or nurse just because of the Affordable Care Act.

“People will need you,” he said. “You’ll be satisfied. You’ll be respected.”

Even with the website’s hang-ups and other shortcomings, the act is saving lives that never would have been saved before, she said.   

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people coming forward who want health insurance — who are getting it for the first time,” Lennhoff said. 

“Who are excited about being able to have primary care for the first time. Who are excited about being able to have the problems they have been living with for a while addressed when they go a doctor. Who feel like they are now a part of the United States and that they matter because they can get health insurance and take care of their families.”

Stanton can be reached at [email protected]