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Sick. 20-Something. Seeking Insurance.

One Woman’s Story About Her 'Pre-Existing' Condition

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Sick. 20-Something. Seeking Insurance.

Erin Bartman at home. (Roman Banuelos/UT)

Erin Bartman at home. (Roman Banuelos/UT)

Erin Bartman at home. (Roman Banuelos/UT)

Erin Bartman at home. (Roman Banuelos/UT)

By Roman Banuelos, UT Community News Reporter

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On a hot Tuesday afternoon in Ontario, California, sunlight streamed into 28-year-old Erin Bartman’s room. “The weather seems like the only good thing happening to me today,” she said.

Bartman had called several insurance companies. Instead of the companies competing for her business, they all denied coverage.

That’s because Bartman has a pre-existing condition, Scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease that affects the skin, joints and muscles, according to the National Institute of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine.  

So far there is no cure for Bartman’s condition. Instead, she can only try treatments — such as chemotherapy — to help control the symptoms.

“I’ve been dealing with this disease for 14 years now,” Bartman said, recalling one of many rough patches.

It was cool Saturday night about a decade ago. Erin was getting ready for the prom, a day she had been waiting for all year. The anticipation of prom was like a mini-escape from the real-life problems related to her illness.

As she started applying eye shadow, she noticed some of her dark brown hair fell off every time she moved her head.

Seeing those strands of hair on the wet sink brought her back to reality. The hair loss, on top of some recent weight she had gained, triggered a wave of insecurity.

“I am only getting worse as time passes,” Bartman recalled thinking.

Still, she was determined to enjoy herself.

“I…learned that I should appreciate every moment that I have because you never know what will happen,” she said.

Since the time Bartman was diagnosed, she has been denied three times by different insurance companies — including Kaiser Permanente and Sharp Health Plan — because her disease is not common. 

“It’s extremely frustrating. I didn’t plan on getting sick. Now, I’m just trying to adjust from the consequences of my illness,” Bartman said.    

She’s in her late twenties and she needs a caretaker to aid her for everyday activities that many take for granted.

Lucky for Bartman, her mother, Mildred, is willing to help out her daughter anyway she can.  

“It breaks my heart that she’s so young and so helpless, I just don’t understand why insurance companies make it difficult for  people in need,” Mildred Bartman said.

Bartman was previously covered by the Affordable Care Act, but in the past couple of months there have been several states trying to roll back parts of the healthcare law.

The Trump administration’s recent tax bill, passed into law last year, repealed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty — which effectively required everyone to have health insurance. A federal judge ruled this month in a court case, Texas v. Azar, that the act is unconstitutional.

Still, some insurance companies are trying to balance their need for profits with their desire to make ethical decisions.

“What kind of society are we living in if we aren’t providing citizen the proper coverage they need for health insurance?” said Sabrina Roberts, a spokesperson for American National Insurance Co, headquartered in Galveston, Texas.

Bartman was able to make an appointment next month with an American National agent, and is hopeful the company will agree to cover her.

Correction: A quote previously included in this article was misattributed.

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to UTCommunityNews@gmail.com.

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