The Senate's version of the American Health Care Act does little to protect the interests of those with pre-existing conditions.
The Senate's version of the American Health Care Act does little to protect the interests of those with pre-existing conditions. (Thomas Northcut / Getty Images)

I've been spending a lot of time these past years in hospital lobbies, infusion rooms, scanning stations and oncology exam rooms. Like countless others diagnosed each year with cancer in America, I was well one day and in the land of the mortally sick the next.

Fortunately for me, I entered the disease's demanding treadmill — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — with a devoted husband, fierce family and friends and good medical care. But my cancer went metastatic anyway in June 2015. At age 59, I was declared terminal and given "six months to a year" to live. I'm still here today because I'm one of the lucky ones to respond, at least partially, to immunotherapy — a breakthrough set of new drugs that help the body fight cancer.


Still, like 15 million other Americans, my struggle with a pre-existing condition is ongoing. This is why I'm deeply troubled over the proposal in the U.S. Senate right now to massively overhaul our health care system. The platitudes about "protections" against draconian cuts pour forth, but the Republican plan to transform this giant system seems just plain wrongful. I am convinced it will cause many millions of people with pre-existing conditions to have their health insurance imperiled — just like in the bad-old days before the sick were granted a guarantee that insurance companies couldn't cut them off or skyrocket their rates.

If we are to believe what we read, this overhaul — a remake of the House's recent, roundly abhorred American Health Care Act — has a good chance of becoming law soon as the Senate seems determined to pass it before the Fourth of July recess.

At this stage in the unveiling process, it is clear that coverage under this law would likely be at risk for millions of people with pre-existing conditions when it comes to both the private insurance market and, especially, Medicaid.

Do we really want to go back to the days when insurance companies routinely denied coverage to sick people? As late-night host Jimmy Kimmel reminded us, insurers used to even routinely deny future coverage to babies born with devastating conditions.

We are told the Senate bill is not as draconian as the House bill — less "mean," to quote President Donald Trump. But as long as states will be allowed to restrict coverage mandates and take waivers (half of them are expected to do this), insurers will be able to raise rates and impose lifetime and yearly caps on all types of coverage. For the sick, making coverage unaffordable is the same as taking it away altogether.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of groups are lined up in opposition to this overhaul and urging the Senate to put patients first. Among them are AARP, the American Cancer Society Action Network, the American Diabetes Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the list goes on.

But even with this much opposition firepower, I'm worried it won't be enough to stop a bent-on-victory Senate from pushing forward as it seems ready to do.

I have learned much from my turn with cancer — most importantly how to express gratitude and live fully in the present while balancing hope for the future. Embracing ideals like this is difficult in a time when cynical politics in Washington may triumph over reason and core American values — especially in a realm as crucial as health care. We citizens must act to stop this bill. Please join me by contacting your representatives and pushing back now against this dangerous overhaul.

Melinda Welsh was the subject of a recent PBS "NewsHour" segment on scientific breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer. She lives in Davis, Calif.