Las Vegas Sun

November 16, 2018

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Rosen meets patients with pre-existing conditions as GOP seeks to gut Obamacare

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Yvonne Gonzalez / Las Vegas Sun

Jeff Gordon, president and CEO of the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, leads Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen and health care advocates and patients with pre-existing conditions on a tour on Thursday, August 2, 2018, of The Caring Place, a Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation program that provides services to adults and children. Rosen held a roundtable to discuss the need for lower prescription drug costs and protections for people with pre-existing conditions under the ACA, which the Trump administration has declined to defend in court.

Longtime Las Vegas resident Rachael Rizzi pays hundreds of dollars each month to fill prescriptions for Lyme disease, a pre-existing condition that would have meant more expensive health care coverage without the Affordable Care Act.

Rizzi was among about a half dozen patients with pre-existing conditions who shared their stories with Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen on Thursday at The Caring Place, a Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation program that provides services to adults and children.

An insurance brokerage owner, Rizzi is getting close to remission, and her prescription costs have gone down from the $1,300 to $1,700 a month she paid after she was first diagnosed.

The 38-year-old said she’ll have Lyme disease for the rest of her life, but consistent treatment and care have helped get her to a “tipping point” with her symptoms, which can be flu-like and include fatigue and a rash.

“Is it 70 percent controlling your body or 5 percent controlling your body?” she said. “Remission for us is really just, ‘I can get up today and clean my house and not feel like I ran a marathon.’ That’s the goal for me.”

Rizzi said she wants the medical community to further research and acknowledge the chronic version of Lyme disease that she has. The traditional treatment is antibiotics, but Rizzi has to take pharmaceutical-grade supplements that her doctor writes a prescription for and are not covered by insurance.

“Oddly enough, if you get Lyme disease right now, even though they don’t acknowledge that there’s a chronic form of it, it’s considered a pre-existing condition,” she said. “So having legislation that protects me that says, ‘She has Lyme disease, but we’re not going to consider pre-existing conditions,’ is super important, because I might not be able to get insurance if things change.”

Jennifer Nordstrom, 3rd Congressional District lead for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, helped coordinate the visit at the center with Rosen’s Washington, D.C., office. She said patients who met with Rosen during a closed-door roundtable had a direct connection with Nordstrom and the Cancer Action Network and were advocates for cancer awareness and ACA affordability and accessibility.

“Prescription medication costs falls in there, where it needs to be affordable and accessible to not only Nevadans, but to the whole United States,” Nordstrom said.

Rosen’s visit Thursday coincided with the seven-year anniversary of her mother’s death from lung cancer. She said she’s grateful for social workers, doctors and palliative care — the subject of a caucus she hopes to start in D.C. and some of the services provided at the center in Las Vegas.

“It’s very personal to me and it should be personal to everyone,” she said. “You don’t have to have a mom who died of cancer to understand what it means if, God forbid, your family member got a diagnosis and wasn’t covered.”

As Republicans in D.C. continue to look for ways to deliver on a long-held promise to repeal the ACA, the Trump administration is declining to defend key provisions of the law, including protections for pre-existing conditions.

Rosen introduced a bill to cap the amount families and individuals have to pay for prescription drugs, and she was joined by fellow Democrats in introducing a resolution in the House, with a companion resolution in the Senate, authorizing each chamber’s counsel to defend the ACA in court.

“While we’re in the minority, all we can do is try to keep introducing legislation that will illuminate and educate and talk about what they’re not doing with this repeal,” Rosen said.

Relatively new to politics, Rosen is running to unseat GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who has faced criticism over his votes for and against repealing the ACA.

Heller spokeswoman Megan Taylor did not comment about Heller’s lack of support for the resolution authorizing Senate counsel to defend the ACA in court.

“Senator Heller believes that Nevadans with pre-existing conditions should be protected. Period,” Taylor said in a statement.