Even though the pain was so intense it seemed like an alien was popping out of his chest. And even though he almost died.
The excellent care he received — it was just 69 minutes from the 9-1-1 call to having stents inserted to repair his right artery, which was 100 percent blocked — left him grateful to be alive. He started volunteering for the American Heart Association, advocating for causes like CPR training for high school students and quality care for heart patients.
But two and a half years later, Vance had another heart attack. Then his real troubles began.
After an angioplasty, Vance was out of work for a while. He was covered by COBRA, which was partially subsidized and therefore affordable — until the subsidy went away.
In January, he started a promising new sales job, only to lose it when his employer pulled out of the area just a few months later. That left Vance unemployed and without health care coverage at a time when his state’s high-risk pool insurance program is full.
“I pride myself on being a responsible citizen,” said Vance, who lives in Lake Tapps, Wash. “But I had to make a choice: pay for mortgage and food or health insurance.”
Every day Vance, 58, worries about getting the sniffles or something more serious.
“Unfortunately,” Vance said, “you just have to gamble that you’re not going to get sick.”
Symptoms that would normally be cured with a copay have become a guessing game, a visit to the doctor out of the question. And running out of a medication that he could no longer afford was frustrating at best, harmful at worst. “I’ll try to get samples from my doctor,” Vance said. “I’m a pretty proud man, but you’ve got to survive.”
Lucky for Vance, survival should soon be a lot easier.
Vance will soon be one of the millions who will gain coverage as a result of reforms made by the Affordable Care Act. It will require most Americans to have healthcare coverage, make it easier for consumers to shop for coverage by establishing new Health Insurance Marketplaces in every state and make premiums more affordable with financial assistance available to most who are uninsured.
Enrollment began Oct. 1. As long as Vance — and anyone else — signs up by Dec. 15, they will be covered starting Jan. 1.
Consumers can compare their options online via the Health Insurance Marketplace. Financial help is available to help pay for premiums and copayments, and no one can be turned down for coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
“Right now I can’t even get insurance because of my heart attacks,” Vance said. “With the Affordable Care Act, my payment is going to be reasonable and affordable — and it’s good coverage.
“If I had another heart attack, I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “It’s a very real fear every day. I’m just hoping and praying I’ll make it to January.” He paused. “You just never know.”
Vance wants to dispel the notion that the Affordable Care Act is for people who don’t work hard or who want something for nothing.
“A lot of people will say it’s for a bunch of deadbeat people, but that’s just not true,” he said. “I’ve worked hard my whole life, and I give back to the community.”
Vance believes that the benefits will help everyone. For instance, he’ll be able to get regular checkups and visit a doctor when he’s sick, rather than turning to an emergency room for relatively routine care. The peace of mind that comes with knowing he’s covered also should eliminate stress and be good for his health.
He understands that the law isn’t perfect, but he believes it will improve his life and the lives of millions of others.
“Put yourself in my shoes,” he said. “I don’t like the situation. But what would you do if you lost your health insurance?”