Mesothelioma survivor Alexis Kidd has friends on both sides of the often-contentious debate over the Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — and she doesn’t like talking politics. She is too nice, too kind, and too giving to say anything bad about anyone else’s opinion.
She just wants to live a little longer.
Kidd, 43, was thrilled to learn she finally can get health insurance again, which will allow her to see an oncologist for the first time in almost four years. She can discover how much the peritoneal mesothelioma has progressed inside her. And possibly get treatment to save — or at least prolong — her life.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the new health care law that will become fully effective Jan. 1, 2014, providing the health insurance for those who previously have been denied.
“I can’t explain how awesome this (ACA) is for people like me. It’s such a good thing,” she told Asbestos.com from her home in Houston. “I’ve been a productive person all my life, and stubbornly independent, so I understand the debate. I don’t want a free ride. I just want the chance to take charge of my own health. Right now, I don’t have that option.”
Kidd was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2007 — when she had health insurance through a previous employer. She had several surgical procedures, including a major surgery that removed and rebuilt half of her diaphragm in hopes of removing all cancerous tumors.
During follow-up treatment, that included a debilitating round of chemotherapy, she was laid off her job, which meant losing her health insurance after the costly COBRA coverage expired.
Mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, has no cure and a lengthy 10- to 40-year latency period between exposure and diagnosis. She likely was exposed as a child. She has been living for years with the uncertainty of her cancer’s progression.
“Not knowing has been kind of unnerving for me, to be honest. The uncertainty is the worst. It’s what’s killing me. At this point, I don’t have a clue what’s going on [with the cancer] inside me,” she said. “Every time my resistance is down, my colds or flu linger and I’m always wondering. Worrying about your health all the time can’t be good for you.”
Kidd has been working full-time at a small boutique, which offers no health insurance benefits to its handful of employees. Her mesothelioma past has frightened away all insurance companies. Pre-existing conditions, like cancer, make it extremely difficult to obtain private health insurance.
“The ACA is more than I could ever ask for. It’s pretty much my life at this point,” she said. “If the ACA does nothing else, if it can prevent an insurance company from penalizing me for having a cancer that is no fault of my own, that will be huge. Not just for me, but for a lot of people.”
Kidd shares a small apartment with her husband Christian, a popular, punk rock band leader in Houston whom she married in 2011. He retired several years ago from his day job after 20 years with the city of Houston, and has been unable to add her to his health insurance plan.
They live a very humble, almost bohemian lifestyle with few frills. They still are paying off previous medical bills that stemmed from her past surgeries. Neither owns a car. She drives a scooter to work.
“Me personally, I don’t want anyone else paying for my health insurance. I want to pay for it. I’ve been working a second job. I just want to be able to obtain it,” she said. “Individual health insurance can be a nightmare if you’re healthy. If you’ve got cancer, it’s almost an impossibility.”
Kidd wasted no time trying to be part of the ACA. When the federal health insurance exchange opened online on Oct. 1, she was there at 12:01 a.m. trying to sign up. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea, too.
The website expected to handle the sign-ups from around the country became a massive disaster the entire first week, unable to deal with the millions who tried to register. Kidd tried for eight consecutive days to complete her application, but each time was met with frustration. Pages would not load properly. Drop-down tabs wouldn’t work. Passwords didn’t register. The site kept crashing.
Instead of being deterred, she remains optimistic and upbeat, pointing to the popularity of the health insurance website as proof of its need.
“I look forward to the opportunity of building a relationship again with a general practitioner, to take care of a lot of things I haven’t been able to do,” she said. “As much as I love the idea of seeing an oncologist again, I hope I don’t have to see him very often.”
She wants to celebrate January 1, 2014, not with a typical New Year’s Eve party, but as the day she and many others will have health care insurance again.
Kidd talks excitedly about making her first insurance premium payment by Dec. 15, which will assure her coverage starts Jan. 1. She talks excitedly about getting the uncomfortable, but necessary diagnostic procedures to determine if her mesothelioma cancer has spread. It will determine how long she will live.
“I’m excluded from the health care system right now,” she said. “And I’m not going to die quietly because some people don’t want to change that. Maybe the ACA won’t be perfect at the start, but we can tweak it as it progresses. It’s a good start, and it’s something we can build on. I’m happy for that.”