Stacy Cook
Stacy Cook
April 12, 2013

In emotional testimony Thursday before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, cancer survivor Stacy Cook of Carroll described her experience battling breast cancer and having to pay out-of-pocket for services when she was denied health-care coverage.

Cook's central message: prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and requiring plans to provide a minimum standard of coverage will prevent other families affected by cancer from having her experience - being forced to choose between their life and their life savings.

The testimony came during a hearing convened by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to examine progress at the state and federal levels in creating health insurance exchanges authorized by the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, and to review the new consumer protections that will begin in 2014. Harkin, who chaired the HELP committee, helped to craft the law.

Cook, 36, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2004, when she was 28 years old. At the time, she was fortunate to have adequate health insurance through her job to receive the care that she needed.

A 1994 Kuemper Catholic High School graduate, Cook is employed by Market Link in Carroll as a telemarketing verifier. She also volunteers for the American Cancer Society - which paid for her two-day trip to Washington, D.C. Cook is a daughter of Dave and Janet Cook of Carroll.

In March 2012, after moving to Arizona, Stacy Cook's cancer reappeared. She underwent a mastectomy only to discover her insurance would not cover the procedure or the chemotherapy treatments she would need. Further, the insurance would pay for only five doctor visits a year.

It was only after friends and family intervened that she was able to afford three of the six chemotherapy treatments that were recommended by her oncologist.

Cook's growing medical bills left her unable to pay her rent in Arizona, forcing her to move back in with her family. After she moved back to Iowa, she continued her search for health-insurance coverage. She has been denied coverage and is continuing to pay out-of-pocket for care.

"Unfortunately, I am now $40,000 in debt because of my medical bills, and I feel that I will likely need to file bankruptcy in 2013," Cook told the committee.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, as of Jan. 1 of next year, insurance companies cannot discriminate against Americans with pre-existing conditions, or charge higher premiums based on health status or gender, and their ability to raise premiums based on age will be limited.

"I now have peace of mind knowing that, in 2014, I will no longer be denied coverage because of my pre-existing condition - cancer," Cook said. "Having access to affordable insurance coverage and quality medical care will give me a better peace of mind for the future. My future is much brighter today than before the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, and for that I am very grateful."

"It is testimony like Stacy's that makes this fight so personal, so important to increasing access to quality, affordable health care in our country," Harkin said. "Stories like her's inspired the debate when we were crafting this law and will lead to the progress when the full benefits of this law are realized next year."

After the hearing in Washington, D.C., Cook spoke with The Daily Times Herald by telephone and said testifying on such crucial public policy is a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.