When health care reform isn’t an abstraction

The Des Moines Register had an interesting piece yesterday on a local family who, through hardship, have discovered some of the virtues of the Affordable Care Act.

The story focuses on a young woman who contracted a rare fungal infection in her lungs, which nearly killed her. Her husband has been on unpaid leave in order to tend to his wife’s needs, and “has been able to do a lot of thinking” while at her bedside.

[Ross Daniels has thought about] what would have happened if portions of the new federal health care law had not been in place. His wife’s insurance had a million dollar lifetime cap on benefits. Her current expenses have already exceeded that. One medication — a potent antifungal agent — costs $1,600 a dose. Without the protection against lifetime limits the new law provides, they would have had to declare bankruptcy.

That law, derisively dubbed “Obamacare” by the president’s opponents, has been portrayed as the essence of evil among Republican presidential candidates. At a tea party-sponsored debate this week, front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney vowed to sign executive orders exempting states from enforcing it. Michele Bachmann bragged of working for its repeal in Congress.

Those attitudes confound Daniels, who says, “It is hard for us to believe that so many of the GOP candidates would have us go back to a time where an illness like this would have forced us, or any other family for that matter, into bankruptcy.” He’s also grateful for the law’s protection against insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

I’ve long hoped that this would establish a strong base of support for the Affordable Care Act over the long run. When individuals and families are confronted with slick attack ads from professional conservative liars, it’s only natural for them to be skeptical about the merit of the law. It’s a big shift and change can be scary.

But when confronted with a health care emergency, folks aren’t thinking about the latest Republican talking points; they’re thinking about their family’s needs. And in the case of this family in Des Moines, it was the dreaded “Obamacare” that protected their interests in a way the previous, dysfunctional system — the ones Republicans are desperate to return to — would not.

In time, I suspect, more and more Americans will have real-world experiences with the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and those folks will discover that the far-right repeal effort isn’t such a good idea after all.

For the record, the young woman who nearly died is, after more than five weeks on a ventilator, finally able to breathe on her own, and no longer requires dialysis. Her medical bills will not force her family into bankruptcy.