Tessie Goheen Rallies ObamaCare Supporters, but Cancer Survivor's Story Offers Complicated Lesson for Locals

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Shortly after Tessie Goheen was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 20, she received a letter from her mother's health insurer, which also covered the college student. If Goheen dropped out of school while pursuing treatment, as she wanted, the insurer would no longer cover her. Now, four years later, the Bremerton woman's story is a rallying call for activists.

It was the inspiration for yesterday's march to state Attorney General Rob McKenna's office, according to organizers from Washington CAN! The activist group is protesting McKenna's role in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Under the act, insurance companies are required to allow young adults up to age 26 to be carried on their parents' plans. Before that, in many states, the only young adults that insurers would allow on their parents' plans were college students.

Goheen's is indeed a compelling story. Not just her but practically her entire family has been hit by cancer. Her father died of it when she was eight. Both of her her younger sisters battled it when they were just adolescents. And then she discovered a lump in her breast, leading to a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and a hysterectomy.

To top it all off, she says that because of her mother's insurance company, she had to go through all of that while struggling with a full-time load of college classes. "It was difficult," she tells Seattle Weekly. "There were days I would go and get chemotherapy and then have to go immediately to class." Even when she was in the hospital recovering from reconstructive surgery, she felt compelled to do schoolwork.

Surely, nobody should have to do that just to keep their health insurance. Nationally, Goheen is a case study in why this provision of the federal reform effort makes sense. To make that argument, Goheen herself delivered a letter to McKenna's office on Monday that outlines everything she's been through.

Locally, however, the situation is different. In 2007, presaging what the feds would later do, the Legislature enacted a law which requires insurers to allow young adults up to age 25 to stay on their parents' plans. (The law didn't take effect until more than a year later, accounting for the letter that Goheen received.)

So while the federal law slightly expands coverage for young adults in this state, by raising the age a year, this is actually one respect in which the possible demise of ObamaCare would mean relatively little to locals. Goheen would still be covered for another year.

Of course, then she would have to get her own insurance. And Goheen says that if the Affordable Care Act goes away, she could be turned down by insurance companies because of her preexisting conditions.

 
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