Fighting Back Through Advocacy: Maine woman successfully challenges insurance caps

Theresa Blankenship of Maine with Hilary Schneider

Participants in Relay For Life events have the opportunity to learn about the importance of fighting back through advocacy.  The American Cancer Society has taken the lead in ensuring that our elected officials make cancer a national priority by establishing its nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

ACS CAN focuses on legislative issues that will help ensure access to quality health care that is adequate, available, affordable and administratively simple, and advocates for research funding, patient protection legislation, screening, detection and treatment services, tobacco control, and prevention and awareness programs.

Theresa Blankenship of Limerick, Maine, didn’t know the difference between a lifetime cap and an annual cap when her late husband took a job with a security company.  They were just happy to have employer-provided health insurance.

All was fine until Theresa’s husband, Rocky, was diagnosed with advanced-stage skin cancer in 2008. Because the cancer had spread, Rocky’s doctor gave him a 30% chance of living another five years. The couple decided on an aggressive treatment plan at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston that included the drug Proleuken, which cost $9,000 per treatment and was administered every six hours.  The $36,000 per day treatment costs soon exceeded the $250,000 lifetime cap on his insurance plan, and the bills kept on coming.  The family owed $1.6 million after a four-week stay in the hospital, and owed more as his treatments continued.

Theresa became well-known around the State House for her testimony in favor of a bill to ban lifetime insurance caps in Maine. Rocky lost his battle with cancer on March 22, 2010, just days before the insurance cap legislation in Maine received final approval and one day before the federal Affordable Care Act was signed into law, which includes the lifting of annual and lifetime benefit caps by 2014.

Theresa was an honored guest on March 23, 2012, in Portland when a group of health care advocates, providers, consumers, small business owners, and policymakers gathered to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the Affordable Care Act signing.  They were joined by the leading health care official in New England, Christie Hager, Region One Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Theresa once again shared Rocky’s story at the event. "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Mainers no longer have to worry about spending their lifetime or retirement savings, or losing their home in order to pay for health insurance," she said.

You can help ACS CAN and the American Cancer Society’s efforts to change public policy by becoming an ACS CAN member. For more information about ACS CAN or to become a member, visit  www.acscan.org.