Why I am thankful for the Affordable Care Act

Photo by John Jordan

Every year my family comes together for Thanksgiving, and we like to give thanks for the past year. We celebrate family, friends and life while reflecting on the good things that have happened to us. This year, I was especially thankful to have this time with my family, as a recent cancer diagnosis taught me the importance of getting health insurance coverage.

Several years ago, I ran into an old family friend who was working to help Texans get enrolled in the Health Insurance Marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act. She asked me if I had insurance, and I told her I was healthy and running my own business with a tight budget. I was fine, so why would I need it?

During the open enrollment period, she kept in touch with me, trying to explain to me the importance of having health insurance and how affordable coverage would be with the financial assistance offered by the Marketplace. I brushed her off until finally my family insisted I get it. My son practically held the pen in my hand as I signed the paperwork to get covered.

It was just in time.

Now that I had health insurance, I scheduled my free annual check-up, my first in a long time, and during that appointment my doctor found something he thought needed further testing. Because of my insurance, I wasn't worried about being able to afford the tests or follow-up appointments. Those tests revealed a mass in my body, which further testing confirmed as colon cancer.

I was shocked and a little fearful; I’ve been a very healthy man all my life, and I run my own business. I could not believe that I could have cancer.

After that diagnosis came months of hospital visits, appointments with specialists, and even chemotherapy. However, with health insurance, I did not have to stress about how all these treatments could ruin my business and my family financially. I instead concentrated on getting better. After months of treatment, they determined I was in remission. I had beaten the cancer.

I know that without insurance, my story might’ve turned out much differently. I might not have made that first appointment until it would have been probably too late; I might not have been referred to specialists early on that were in my network and that I could afford; I might have had to make a decision between chemotherapy and keeping my family financially afloat; I might not be in remission today.

No matter what, my family would have had a very different Thanksgiving this year.

While my story is unique to me, it is not that different from thousands of other Texans, especially in the Latino community. Latino Americans are still more likely to be uninsured than any other group — as of March, one in five Latino adults were living without health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, all plans are required to cover doctor visits, hospitalizations, emergency room care and prescriptions. Preventative care, like my initial doctor’s visit, is available free of charge, and consumers can’t be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

That means the many Texans who suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma or even cancer can’t be denied coverage and can get the care they need to prevent or manage their symptoms.

Getting covered can help address some of the most difficult health care challenges facing Texans. My story is proof of that.

I know I am lucky to have a friend who knows the importance of having health coverage — she probably saved my life. This year, I not only actively renewed my coverage for the third year but also made sure my son, his family and my work family renewed or enrolled.

The current open enrollment period runs through Jan. 31, so you still have time. You can make an appointment to sit down with an expert that can help you enroll for no cost by visiting GetCoveredAmerica.org/Connector.

When we raised our glasses on Thanksgiving Day to say ¡salud! for the triumphs of the past year, I was especially thankful for my good health, made possible with the Affordable Care Act.

Manuel Avila Jr.

President, EscareƱo Construction