Romneycare would cover an unemployed cancer patient. Obamacare will too.

August 8, 2012

Robert Giroux/Getty Images

Yesterday, Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA put out an ad featuring a steelworker who blamed Mitt Romney for his loss of health insurance after Bain Capital shuttered his plant. His wife subsequently died of cancer.

Today, the Romney campaign had its response. That worker would have been fine, Romney press secretary Andrea Saul told Fox News, if that person had lived in Massachusetts: He would have been covered under the former governor's health law. .

“If people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” she explained earlier today. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President [Barack] Obama’s economy.”

That's all pretty much true: People have lost health insurance during the recession, a result of unemployment as well as employers scaling back their coverage. It's worth noting though that this appears to be leveling off a bit as we get further away from the recession: The percentage of Americans without insurance held stable between 2009 and 2010, hovering just above 16 percent.

If Joe Soptic, the steelworker featured in this ad, had lived in Massachusetts, he would have had access to coverage: The state ended insurance exclusion of pre-existing conditions in 2006, when it passed its universal coverage.

That's pretty much how the health reform law works, too. Beginning in 2014, pre-existing condition exclusion ends for the entire country. The idea is to make health insurance more accessible to those who might not have coverage through an employer or a public program, like Medicare or Medicaid.

In the ad, Soptic tells the story of his wife's cancer. It went untreated, possibly due to prohibitive costs, and ultimately proved fatal. “I don’t know how long she was sick, and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance,” Soptic explains.

We don't know for sure how affordable health insurance will be under the federal law. The Massachusetts experience suggests that costs may go down.The cost of insurance, also due to a number of other insurance reforms, dropped dramatically, from $8,567 in 2006 to $5,143 the year after the Massachusetts law took effect.

Just as in Massachusetts, there will be subsidies to bring the cost of insurance down. Any couple earning less than $60,520 - 400 percent of the federal poverty line - would be eligible.

It's almost certain that cancer care - as well as related screenings - would get covered by any policy on the market. The health law requires all plans to cover a set of 10 "essential health benefits," things that most employer plans usually pay for. The details of that list are still being fleshed out, but it does include broad categories like hospitalizations, prevention and rehabilitative services.

That's how things would have worked for Soptic under Romneycare. And its how things will work, for the rest of the country in two years from now - if Obamacare does not get repealed.

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