Cancer survivor's video supports patient protections in the ACA

March 15, 2017


At 21, Maggie McConnaha has more knowledge of health insurance than most people her age and more reason to worry about the fate of the Affordable Care Act.


When McConnaha was a freshman at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., in the spring of 2015, she got sick. She initially thought her swollen lymph nodes were caused by mononucleosis — two of her friends had mono. Doctors conducted tests, and then more tests, and came back with a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system.

McConnaha was covered by her parents' health insurance plan. Her father Scott McConnaha, a past editor of CHA's Health Progress journal, is vice president of mission at Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Sponsored Ministries in Manitowoc, Wis. Her mother Colleen McConnaha is a school-based physical therapist.

Maggie McConnaha had chemotherapy every other week for four months, followed by 12 radiation treatments into November of 2015, when she learned her cancer was in remission. "I wasn't as worried, I think, as my parents were," she says. "I think I still had so much of that teenage invincibility as part of my psyche."

Maggie McConnaha

McConnaha, currently a junior and still covered under her parents' insurance plan, says she requires screening tests every six months or so to make sure she has no signs of cancer. Of the monitoring and any potential long-term side effects of cancer treatment, she says, "This is stuff I'll be dealing with the rest of my life."

So she worries about her ability to obtain and afford health insurance that offers real financial protection and access to care. Under the ACA, health care plans can't have an annual or lifetime limit on essential health benefits. McConnaha assumes she'll get a job with employer-provided health insurance, but she worries there may be a lifetime cap on benefits if the nation's health policy changes, and she might hit it one day.

If the ACA is repealed, McConnaha says it's possible Congress will come up with a replacement that pushes people with a health history like hers into high-risk insurance pools. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, prior to the passage of the ACA, 35 states had high-risk pools for people in the non-group market with preexisting health conditions. And nearly all of those states that offered high-risk insurance pools excluded coverage of preexisting conditions for six to 12 months after enrollment.

McConnaha doesn't view such pools as a good solution. "I don't see how high-risk pools serve the individuals who need them or the taxpayers. They are expensive for everyone."

To amplify her message that ordinary people have a great deal riding on the outcome of the debate over health reform, McConnaha produced a video that overlays snapshots of her life — including pictures with loved ones and at landmarks while studying abroad — with ACA advocacy. She entreats viewers to ask their U.S. legislators to find ways to build on the ACA and to work for affordable care for everyone.

She shared it on social media to call attention to people with serious or chronic conditions who require expensive and ongoing treatment. "What are they supposed to do?" she asks.

To see a collection of profiles, click here.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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