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4:03 am
Thu December 5, 2013

White House Cites Pre-Existing Condition Case From Its Own Ranks

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 10:07 am

It's Day 4 of the White House's new messaging push for the Affordable Care Act. Today the goal is to tell the stories of people with pre-existing conditions who are now entitled to coverage under the new health care law.

One such story comes from within the White House.

Michael Robertson, deputy assistant to the president and deputy cabinet secretary, was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer 16 months ago. He was 35.

"I went overnight from being completely healthy and exercising and all that to having this catastrophic disease," he said in an interview at the White House on Wednesday. Robertson described the shock of realizing "these things can happen in an instant. They don't just happen to older people."

Doctors told him the disease had spread to three organs. He immediately went into treatment. "I had a total of eight months of chemotherapy, a month and a half of radiation — every day — which was a real rough part of it. You go every morning for the radiation. And then I had a total of five surgeries with various stints in the hospital for that, plus the recovery time," said Robertson.

For insurance purposes, Robertson had just become someone with a pre-existing condition. And that made him vulnerable to losing his coverage should he change jobs.

"I'd always imagined pre-existing condition to be something you were born with, something you've had for years," he said. "Not something you can go to bed one night and wake up the next morning and be told you have. That was a real eye-opening thing."

As Republicans have fastidiously catalogued the many hiccups and stumbles with the health law, the Obama administration is eager to shift the focus away from the troubled website and President Obama's false promise that "if you like your insurance, you can keep it."

In Robertson's case, roughly $900,000 of treatment left him with no detectable cancer in his body. He was fortunate to have insurance that covered almost all of the cost.

A White House official says in the coming days, the administration will call attention to stories like Robertson's. While many parts of the Affordable Care Act are unpopular, this provision has broad support. The law prohibits insurance companies from denying or charging higher premiums to people with health problems that may recur, such as cancer, asthma or diabetes.

The administration also hopes that stories like this one persuade so-called young invincibles to sign up for health coverage. The participation of young, healthy people in the system is essential to balance out the cost of older, sicker people who depend more on expensive medical services.

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