COLUMBIA — Blindness is a pre-existing condition. That's what one MU graduate student was told at least.
Two days before her 24th birthday, Gretchen Maune was diagnosed with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, which can cause blindness.
"That's not something you forget," Maune said. "I'd just lost my sight, I was dejected."
Maune, now 30, was given the news just as she was set to age out of health care coverage under her parent's plan, she said. On top of that, Maune was in her last semester as an MU undergraduate and would soon lose any coverage through university-provided student care.
Facing the possibility of being without coverage and a flurry of medical expenses, Maune began to look at different insurance options.
"I was told private insurance wasn't an option because blindness was a pre-existing condition," Maune said. "I'd never been treated like that, like a second- or third-class citizen."
Maune was one of about 100 people to attend a presentation on health care reform Thursday night at Missouri United Methodist Church. Wendell Potter, a former health insurance company spokesman, detailed the abuses of private health insurance companies as well as what the Affordable Care Act means for Missouri residents.
Among those to voice their concerns was Shari Korthuis, an activist for health care reform and the adoption of a more robust Medicare program.
"As long as you have profit in health care you won't have equal protection for all," Korthuis said. "There's injustice in the system."
In Missouri, legislators have decided so far not to expand Medicaid, the government-run insurance program designed for the nation's poorest. As a result, many of those at the meeting were visibly concerned about what they, friends and family will do for coverage.
The Affordable Care Act has pushed much of the recent debate over health care. On Jan. 1, all Americans will be required to carry health insurance, which is a major concern for those who don't qualify who Medicaid or aren't old enough to be covered by Medicare.
Maune said she is covered by both Medicaid and Medicare, but she worries about her friends and family.
"A lot of my loved ones have had more trouble than I have (finding insurance)," Maune said.
What about people covered by their employer?
Companies are sometimes the target of criticism for limiting employee hours so that they won't be forced to provide health care and other benefits. Responding to questions raised by the crowd, Potter said insurers often attempt to mislead people into thinking this is a result of "Obamacare."
"It's not health care that makes them hire part-time employees rather than full-time ones," he said. "It's because they can pay them less."
Potter said those who work for MU, one of the largest employers in Columbia, and other large companies, should attribute the desire to hire part-time workers to economic conditions.
"When you have high unemployment, you have more people willing to do part-time work," Potter said. "But it's only temporary."
Why is health care so expensive in the U.S.?
Audience members also wanted Potter to tell them why health care in the U.S. is so pricey.
In Potter's view, the American health care is the way it is because, "we've never tried to create a system with appropriate oversight."
He added that in the U.S. there are no limits on what drug companies can charge for products, and they are allowed to advertise, just one of two developed nations in the world with that freedom, he said.
Potter showed graphs displaying data on the price of U.S. health care versus other countries.
Is it "Obamacare" or is it the Affordable Care Act?
Many of those who came to the meeting called themselves activists for health care reform of some kind.
When it comes to health care reform, terminology can make all the difference. For those hoping to avoid politicized speech and have a issue-based discussion, Potter said the best way to address the issue is simply to avoid calling the new act anything at all.
Instead, he advised listeners to simply talk about health care and what they believe is best.
Supervising editor is Hannah Wiese.