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Islara Souto: Patient protections and health care access must be defended

As an advocate for health coverage, I value the progress America has made in recent years. We’ve opened up health insurance to more Floridians, and health plans are welcoming all types of patients and ensuring they obtain great care.

These are trends we must entrench and enhance.

Leading the ACA enrollment program for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, I’ve seen how health coverage can change lives. We serve more than 400,000 Floridians with epilepsy, a serious health condition that can develop at any time.

A patient’s initial epileptic seizure will frequently happen in the first year of life, but others don’t experience them until middle or old age. One in 26 people will suffer from epilepsy in their lifetime — and for too long, the condition used to bar too many from obtaining health insurance.

In this, epilepsy had a lot in common with other chronic conditions. From cancer survivors to people born with a congenital heart defect or suffering from depression, patients with pre-existing conditions often could not get health coverage. The experience wasn’t restricted to those with the most serious ailments, either. Asthma and allergies could be enough to put insurance out of reach.

Passage of the Affordable Care Act changed all that. It guaranteed patients, regardless of pre-existing condition, access to insurance at the same price as anyone else their age. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job has been making people aware of these new patient protections, and helping them enroll in a health plan.

The difference was incredible for so many of my clients. With health insurance, many patients were finally able to see a specialist, find a medication without as many side effects, or otherwise experience better disease management.

Before the ACA, being shut out of health insurance meant being excluded from most medical care, including preventive services — while paying too much to get any treatment at all. Today, wellness programs — which include checkups, cholesterol screenings, nutritional advice and stop-smoking assistance — are included free with a health plan. Millions of beneficiaries can now get help they never could before.

The positive impacts of the ACA have been especially significant for vulnerable populations, including non-English speakers and immigrants. Health plans are offering care coordination in multiple languages. They’re conducting outreach to high-risk groups and those unfamiliar with health insurance, helping them understand what services are available and how to navigate the network. Patients are being encouraged to get care proactively, and their health outcomes are improving.

Illness, injury, and aging are part of the human condition. We can all benefit from good medical care. Fortunately, the ACA made health insurance more accessible and improved quality across Florida — that’s why must keep protecting and expanding these landmark reforms.


Islara Souto is Statewide Navigation Program Director for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. She is based in Miami.

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