Supreme Court health care ruling leaves one student relieved, insured

Thursday, June 28, 2012 | 6:13 p.m. CDT; updated 7:19 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 28, 2012

COLUMBIA — The U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Thursday, including its provisions tailored to patients with pre-existing conditions and young adults covered by their parents' policies.

MU graduate Lauren Breckenfelder fits both categories.

"I'm otherwise healthy, but I do have this pre-existing condition," she said.

From an early age, Breckenfelder had been prone to hearing loss and chronic ear infections, undergoing her first corrective procedures at age 4. By the time she was a senior in high school, an aggressive cyst, called a cholesteatoma, had formed in her right middle ear.

The condition is rare; for Breckenfelder, it's congenital. If left untreated, it can eat away at bones and tissue in the ear, and even lead to brain infections.

Three surgeries and $40,000 later, doctors removed the cyst and Breckenfelder recovered.

"Now, I'm really healthy, but that wouldn't have happened without insurance," she said. She underwent her last surgery as a junior in college a year and a half ago.

In addition to regular ear screenings and allergenic shots to fight congestion, the procedures have all been covered by her parents' health insurance. Otherwise, she said her medical bills would have been debilitating.

"We were very excited to hear when Obama's health care law passed," Breckenfelder said.

Portions of the health care bill took effect immediately when President Barack Obama signed it in 2010. Coverage expanded for young adults, and patients could no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. With Thursday's ruling, those provisions will stand.

All this came at a critical time for Breckenfelder; she'll turn 22 in less than a month, which would have made her ineligible for coverage on her parents' plan. As a student, she would have been forced to pay for pre-existing coverage, or join the estimated 30 percent of young adults living without health insurance.

Breckenfelder said she didn't feel comfortable with either option.

In the fall, Breckenfelder will be entering law school at the University of Wisconsin, and she's been haunted by the notion that her chronic condition wouldn't be covered by a new health care plan not tied to her parents.

"Part of my fear was that I would start law school without insurance," Breckenfelder said. "Even one mildly expensive health bill could force me to drop out of school."

News of the Supreme Court's decision offered Breckenfelder some peace of mind. Coverage on her parents' policy will still continue until she's 26, and she won't face denial of coverage for her ear infections, should they return.

"As a student, I would have had no means to cover these kinds of expenses," Breckenfelder said. She still undergoes yearly screenings, but has been well for the past couple of years and isn't taking prescription medication.

By the time she turns 26, she'll be two years out of law school and likely covered on her employer's health care plan.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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