Pandemic relief helped millions in need of health insurance. Only Congress can guarantee that your coverage does not expire.

A Wisconsin nurse educator describes her situation, facing a debilitating illness when her employer-provided health insurance disappeared.

[Editor’s Note: A centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a marketplace of private health insurance plans that are subsidized so that lower-income households can afford healthcare coverage. As part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan last year, those subsidies were expanded so that more middle class families wouldn’t have to go without coverage when record numbers of jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If those expanded subsidies expire next year as planned, an estimated 13 million Americans would face lower subsidies or lose them altogether—making it likely many will end up uninsured, even if they have health concerns and would face situations like the one described in this article from Lynn Carey.]

As a Registered Nurse, I have spent my career working for various health care providers in the greater Milwaukee area. I was working as a nurse educator when I developed a mysterious cough that wouldn’t go away. Little did I know that my cough would be a symptom of a life-threatening lung disease that requires oxygen 24/7. After many years of caring for others, I found myself as a patient.

As the disease progressed, he was no longer able to work.

Fortunately, I was able to be covered by my husband’s health care plan, until he lost his job. And not having a job meant not having health insurance. This was at a time before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the ACA Marketplace that would be created by the new law. The only option, at the time, was to extend our COBRA coverage, which was very expensive and time-limited. Fortunately, my husband found a new job with health insurance.

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I will never forget the stress and anxiety I had, worrying about how I was going to pay for the extremely expensive care I needed without health insurance. At a time when I needed to focus on staying as healthy as possible, I was worried about not getting coverage due to significant pre-existing conditions, until the ACA passed.

Thanks to the ACA, I could not be discriminated against because of my health conditions, I had access to health insurance options if the need arose, and I was able to minimize my stress and anxiety and focus on living a fulfilling life. I just can’t imagine what would have happened if this had happened 5 years earlier, and I had no guarantee of access to health care when I needed it most.

The ACA has helped individuals and families like mine by keeping insurance companies from engaging in their most predatory and unethical practices. As historic as the ACA is in ensuring that everyone has a place to go for health coverage no matter their circumstances, it still needs improvement if we are to ensure affordable, quality health care for all. Insurance companies have found ways to usurp the spirit of the law and fly under the radar because Republicans refuse to make even basic adjustments to protect people.

I strongly believe that we must build on what we started, and I am truly concerned for all the families and individuals who were recently able to access care coverage through increased COVID subsidies. These subsidies provided through the ACA marketplace meant that more individuals and families were able to access health care, many for the first time in years. My concern is that these subsidies expire soon and the threat of COVID is not over. I don’t want to see people who don’t sign up due to affordability issues, waive coverage, and then be hit by a major, unexpected health condition.

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We know that when people are as healthy as possible, they thrive. Keeping people healthy is not only the morally right thing to do, but it’s also good for our country to have a healthy community living their lives to the fullest of their potential. We need to make sure the ACA COVID grants are extended and keep the path clear for people to have a better future.