by Thao Nguyen, Outreach Manager, 
National Women's Law Center 

During the health care reform debate, my family called me on a daily basis to get updates. Yes, part of it was that they were concerned about long work hours, my diet consisting of grilled cheese sandwiches and Ramen, and my overall sanity. But it was also because my family, like millions of Americans around the country, felt that advocating for passage of reform was the only way that they could control our hopeless situation—my mom’s inability to get health insurance because of an illness in her teenage years. Her past had come back to haunt her, and now the insurance industry had branded her with a "pre-existing condition" label.

As a former small business owner of nearly 20 years and a current non-profit employee, my mom has dedicated her life to ensuring that our family had the best medical care possible. When my father was laid off, she selflessly took a second job on top of running her daycare to make sure our family had good health insurance. With her children all grown, my mother decided to follow her dream of working for a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Vietnamese-American immigrants. But with the crumbling California economy, the organization took a hit and her hours and benefits were cut. A short gap in her insurance before taking the job meant my mom suddenly was one of millions of Americans with a pre-existing condition unable to get coverage.

Luckily, my mom is from California. The state operates a high risk health insurance pool for people unable to get health insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition. But not only do you need proof that you were unable to obtain health insurance, you also need to have gone six months without coverage before you are eligible. For someone like my mom, at high-risk of breast cancer and diabetes, six months without access to a doctor is treacherous. In addition, the pool has a long waiting list ranging from 12-18 months—which is a lifetime for anyone with a pre-existing condition.

However, with the passage of the health care reform law new opportunities will be available for people like my mom. To begin with, Governor Schwarzenegger has indicated he will work with the federal government to take advantage of the funds available in the new bill to make high risk pools available to a larger number of those that need it. These funds become available to states like California on July 1, 2010 and should help reduce the time on waiting lists for the many people who need it most. And with the implementation of the health care reform bill, in 2014 people like my mother will never have to worry about being denied for past illnesses.

Throughout women’s health week, I’ve sent my sisters reminders about the importance of their annual women’s visit and shared statistics related to different women’s health issues. We’ve cooed over my pregnant sister’s updates and discussed the prenatal care at length. As we wait for my mother to enter the high-risk pool, we are a family with hope of the future and not clinging on to the past.