Tessie Goheen: the Face of Obamacare

A young cancer survivor couldn't choose between school and chemo.

Shortly after college student Tessie Goheen was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 20, she received a letter from her mother's health insurer, which also covered Goheen. If she dropped out of school while pursuing treatment, as she wanted to, the insurer would no longer cover her.

Four years later, the Bremerton woman's story served as the inspiration for Monday's march to state Attorney General Rob McKenna's office, according to organizers from Washington CAN!. The activist group is protesting McKenna's role in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Under the Act, insurance companies are required to allow young adults up to age 26 to be carried on their parents' plans. Before that, in many states, the only young adults who insurers would allow on their parents' plans were college students.

Practically Goheen's entire family has been hit by cancer: Her father died of it when she was 8, and both her younger sisters battled it as adolescents. Then Goheen discovered a lump in her breast, leading to a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, and a hysterectomy.

She says that because of her mother's insurance company, she had to go through all that while struggling with a full-time load of college classes. "It was difficult," she says. "There were days I would go and get chemotherapy and then have to go immediately to class." Even while in the hospital recovering from reconstructive surgery, she felt compelled to do schoolwork. Goheen delivered a letter to McKenna's office on Monday that outlines everything she's been through.

Locally, however, the situation is different. In 2007, presaging what the feds would later do, the legislature enacted a law which requires insurers to allow young adults up to age 25 to stay on their parents' plans. (The law didn't take effect until more than a year later, accounting for the letter that Goheen originally received.) So while the federal law slightly expands coverage for young adults in this state, raising the age by a year, this is actually one respect in which the possible demise of Obamacare would mean relatively little to locals. Goheen would still be covered for another year.

Of course, then she would have to get her own insurance. And Goheen says that if the Affordable Care Act goes away, she could be turned down by insurance companies because of her preexisting conditions.

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