Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Over 300,000 North Dakotans Have a Pre-Existing Condition; the DOJ Recently Announced it Would Not Defend in Court Patient Protections for these Individual 

Last month, Heitkamp Helped Introduce a Resolution to Allow Legal Action to Protect Families with Pre-Existing Conditions 

BISMARCK, N.D. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today brought together North Dakota individuals, families, and children with pre-existing conditions to hear their stories and to understand the importance of continued access to affordable, reliable health care coverage. Heitkamp also heard their concerns about the administration’s recent push to eliminate critical health care insurance protections— which could impact over 300,000 North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions, and she reinforced the need to continue to push for affordable, quality care for all North Dakotans.

Under current federal law, health insurers are prohibited from denying coverage or charging more for individuals with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, or pregnancy. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will not actively defend these vital protections in court. Last month, Heitkamp helped introduce a resolution that would allow the U.S. Senate to take legal action against DOJ efforts to undermine protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions in the health reform law.

Today’s meeting continues Heitkamp’s efforts to share the stories of North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions, particularly as they talk about how the DOJ’s efforts would harm them and the wellbeing of their families. Click these links to watch Annelise from Bismarck, Kathryn from Mandan, and Amanda from Fargo tell their personal stories. 

“As a breast cancer survivor, I know what it’s like to live every day with a pre-existing condition. When I listen to these North Dakotans talk about their health care trials and triumphs, I hear stories that are probably familiar to most North Dakotans. Ultimately, they’re the experiences of our neighbors, our kids, and ourselves,” said Heitkamp. “The administration’s effort to strip critical health insurance protections away from so many North Dakotans is misguided and wrong. No family should have face bankruptcy to be able to afford lifesaving care for a loved one. The administration needs to stop playing reckless games with the health of North Dakotans— and as I’ve said before, no one should support this effort. Instead, I’ve been working toward bipartisan solutions to enable North Dakotans to get affordable care, prevent disproportionate increases in health care costs, and protect our fellow North Dakotans with pre-existing conditions.”

“As an oncology nurse, I know all too well that it only takes one major diagnosis for someone’s life to completely change. For me, that came in 2015— when after being cancer free for 17 years, I found out that I had developed stage 4 breast cancer,” said Belva Leer from Bismarck. “But more uncertainty was soon to come for my family. While I was going through treatment a second time, my husband suffered a heart attack. I had to gradually stop working as treatment continued, and my husband couldn’t go back to teaching after being in retirement. Without our health insurance, I don’t know how we’d make it—and I’m grateful that Senator Heitkamp understands what it means to live every day with a pre-existing condition. When the administration talks about stripping protections, that scares us— because we both live with a pre-existing condition every day. When you go through cancer, you’re forced to make many hard choices. Keeping pre-existing conditions protections shouldn’t be a hard choice.”

"My son, Sam, is 27 years old and has a brain abnormality called Lissencephaly, which means he requires 24 hour care, a wheelchair, oxygen, hospital bed, mechanical lift, a special van, and many medications. In addition, his condition causes severe epilepsy," said Mary Rennich from Bismarck. "I'll do anything for Sam to make sure he gets the care he needs, but if we can't afford his health insurance, we'll face bankruptcy to get Sam his critical care -- and even then, there's no way we could pay for all the health care and support he needs to live. That's not a position I wish for any parent trying to care for their child. The administration has said it will no longer support protections to make sure Sam can get affordable care, but Sen. Heitkamp is stepping up to fight back. We greatly appreciate her work to make sure all families can protect their children."

“When my daughter was born seven years ago, we had no idea she would have two pre-existing conditions from the moment she arrived: a congenital heart defect and down syndrome,” said Tessa Sicble from Bismarck.  “As a parent, so many questions go through your head once you receive that news, but you always want to do everything you can to prepare your child for a bright future and make sure they have the medical treatment they need to thrive. As a single parent who works full-time to support two young children, I don’t know how I could keep up with the medical bills from her cardiology and physical therapy appointments if costs were to skyrocket due to health insurance protections disappearing. After my daughter was flown to the Mayo Clinic after her birth, the doctors told us that more heart surgeries were to come. We still don’t know when her eventual open-heart surgery will happen—and not having health care coverage we can afford would be absolutely devastating. This could always be the year when she has her surgery—and I want to thank Senator Heitkamp for pushing back against the administration’s reckless attempt to gut protections for my daughter.”

DOJ’s actions show an unprecedented effort to purposefully allow health insurance companies to charge individuals, children, and families more for health care or deny coverage if they have a pre-existing condition and charge the sick exorbitantly more for coverage. The resolution Heitkamp helped introduce would authorize U.S. Senate Legal Counsel to intervene in the Texas v. United States lawsuit— which DOJ said it would no longer actively defend in court— and fight to uphold protections for individuals and children with pre-existing conditions.

In a letter to the administration in June 2018, Heitkamp outlined her commitment to improving health care coverage for all Americans, while also criticizing this blatant attempt to force millions of Americans to pay more for their health care coverage due to their pre-existing conditions. Click here to read the full letter.

North Dakota is one of 20 states that filed the lawsuit to repeal health care protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions — a reckless action now supported by DOJ. After the DOJ’s first announced its decision in June, Heitkamp pushed back against the DOJ’s support for the litigation. 

Background

Since joining the U.S. Senate in 2013, Heitkamp has offered many reforms that would help the current health reform law work better for families and businesses. She is continuing to try to work with Senate Republicans and Democrats to reach compromise solutions that make health care affordable and accessible for North Dakotans. Since 2013, Heitkamp has also met regularly with her health care advisory board— comprised of health care leaders across North Dakota – to talk with them about health care in the state and improving the health reform law. 

Heitkamp has continued to seek additional solutions to address rising health care costs in North Dakota and across the country. Earlier this month, Heitkamp cosponsored bipartisan legislation to suspend the Health Insurance Tax— a fee that directly impacts health care affordability for North Dakota families and small businesses. Last year, Heitkamp introduced a bill to delay the tax through 2019. A delay of the tax through 2019 was ultimately included in the government funding bill that was signed into law earlier this year.

###

Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov