Hate Obama, Love Obamacare

How a skeptical Ohio family found plenty to like in health care reform

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Claudia Susana for TIME

When Sean Recchi was diagnosed with cancer, he and his wife Stephanie were billed $83,900 by the hospital, in advance. Now he has insurance.

I don't think Obamacare will help us. I don't want anything to do with it," Stephanie Recchi told me a week after the launch of HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1. "I hear a lot of bad things about it--that it doesn't cover pre-existing conditions and it's too expensive," she added, referring to what she said were "television ads and some politicians talking on the news. Just a lot of talk that this is a bad law."

Recchi's interest in health insurance is anything but casual. Those who read TIME's special report in March on health care costs ("Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us") may recall that when Stephanie's husband Sean, then 42, was diagnosed with cancer a year earlier, the couple--who together were drawing about $3,500 a month from the small business they had just started in Lancaster, Ohio--had to borrow from her mother and max out their credit cards to try to save him.

MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston had told Stephanie that their insurance (for which they paid $469 a month) was virtually worthless. So the hospital demanded $83,900, in advance, just to develop a treatment plan for Sean and cover his first $13,702 transfusion, along with simple items like gauze pads at $77 per box and routine lab tests for which he was billed tens of thousands of dollars.

As I reported, Stephanie recalled that her husband was "sweating and shaking with chills and pains. He had a large mass in his chest that was ... growing. He was panicked." Nonetheless, Sean was held in a reception area and kept from seeing a doctor for about 90 minutes until the hospital confirmed that the Recchis' check had cleared.

All of which explains why despite the negative--and in this case, completely inaccurate--scuttlebutt she says she had heard about Obamacare, Stephanie Recchi visited HealthCare.gov repeatedly after it launched. But, she said, "I just never got anywhere ... It kept freezing or crashing."

That Obamacare crashed on Stephanie and Sean Recchi, of all people, amid a torrent of misinformation about what the law could or could not do for them, epitomizes the calamity of the failed launch. But what has happened to the Recchis and their health care options more recently might be emblematic of the law's potential.

The key provisions of Obamacare seem as if they were drafted by someone sitting next to Sean Recchi in that MD Anderson holding room. Under the law, insurance companies can no longer turn away people with pre-existing conditions or even take those conditions into account when determining what people like the Recchis pay for their coverage. When Stephanie logged on in October, she was shopping for a family facing the ultimate pre-existing condition--cancer. Although Sean is now in remission, he is regularly seeing doctors in Ohio and taking drugs costing hundreds of dollars a month.

Stephanie, Sean and their two children are also a perfect match for the demographic that Obamacare was designed to serve: a family of four earning less than $40,000 a year, unable to get insurance from an employer because the Recchis had just started their own business.

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