Don’t Gamble With Your Life – Get Yourself Covered One Way Or The Other

Contributed by K.T. McKee

Health insurance saves lives.

If you don’t have health coverage, you most likely will not get your routine annual check-ups, preventative cancer screenings or diagnostic labs to get to the bottom of that sharp pain in your abdomen that could be your appendix about to rupture. You will most likely just carry on and hope for the best. 

I did that. I went four years without a mammogram due to a combination of the lack of good health coverage and the feeling that mammograms don’t make that much of a difference for me because they can’t see through dense tissue. 

I also didn’t do routine self-exams, probably because I wasn’t communicating with a doctor who would have encouraged me to do so – especially since my own birth mother lost a breast to cancer when she was only thirty-four and my paternal grandmother died of breast cancer when she was seventy-two. 

So one day early last year, I noticed some tenderness and a thickening in my right breast. I noticed other oddities on that side and became increasingly alarmed. Luckily, I did have good health coverage at the time through my employer, and so made an appointment with my new primary care provider. If I had been uninsured, I most likely would have gone into denial and told myself I was just over-reacting. 

If I had not been insured, I wouldn’t have found out that I had an aggressive form of breast cancer called Invasive Lobular Carcinoma that had taken over my right breast and then proceeded to spread beyond to my bones. Even if I had been able to get the mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies as an uninsured person to the tune of several thousands of dollars, I never would have been able to pay for the mastectomy (a $27K procedure) and I have no idea how I would have covered the four chemotherapy sessions that – in combination with oral hormone therapy – have increased my odds of being able to spend more time on this amazing planet and be there as my grandchildren grow up. 

This is why I am so passionate about helping people get covered through the Affordable Care Act. First as a certified application counselor and now as a certified navigator, I have been able to help hundreds of Valley residents acquire affordable health insurance on since the ACA first kicked in during 2013. Several of these newly-insured residents came back to me for help the next year, telling me stories of how they were finally able to get those knee replacements so they could continue working or they discovered they were diabetic and could get their life-saving medicines without losing their home. 

And now with Medicaid expansion in effect for the past two years, more and more Alaskans have been able to get health coverage – many for the first time in their lives. And this too has saved lives. 

As Congress grapples with repeal efforts, rest assured residents with no other insurance options will still be able to either choose health plans offered by Premera Blue Cross or enroll in Medicaid on for at least the foreseeable future. 

Over the next few months, some of you will qualify for coverage through this Special Enrollment Period, especially if you recently lost or will lose coverage due to no fault of your own. Some of you will have an income low enough to qualify for Medicaid and you can apply for Medicaid all year – there is no enrollment deadline. Did you know a single person can make up to $20,000 per year and still qualify for Medicaid? A family of two can make up to $27,000 annually and enroll in Medicaid. 

If you don’t qualify for this Special Enrollment Period for Premera Blue Cross coverage, but believe you will qualify for coverage during the next Open Enrollment Period, please note that the Open Enrollment Period for 2018 coverage only runs from November 1st to December 15th. That timespan is quite a bit shorter than previous Open Enrollment periods. 

You don’t have to do this on your own. It can be a complicated process, especially when Advanced Premium Tax Credits (APTC) come into play. Please reach out to either me or another certified assister in Mat-Su. There are several of us out here. I can be reached at 891-6940 or you can call 1-844-PLANSAK, or visit to find others who can help you in person at no charge. 

Your life could depend on it. 

K.T. McKee is an ACA Navigator Program Specialist in the Mat-Su region for Alaska Primary Care Association. She also can be reached at