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No, Vox, The Supreme Court Will Not Decide If a Cancer Victim Gets Chemo

Vox News published a story today with the attention-grabbing headline “The Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision will determine if this cancer patient gets chemotherapy.” If you read the story in question, you learn that’s not true. In fact, Vox may have inadvertently undercut the thrust of a story used by supporters of the law in an amicus brief.

Marilyn Schramm is starting to think about moving.

She is a 63-year-old retiree who lives in Texas, and since November 2013 she’s purchased health insurance through Healthcare.gov. She has a policy that costs about $800 per month. Schramm, who earns $28,000 from her pension, pays about half the cost, and the federal government covers the rest with a subsidy.

Schramm has colon cancer.

Those are the facts we’re given up front about Marilyn Schramm. She had a tumor removed and needs chemo. She lives on a pension and is worried about paying the full cost of her insurance. At this point, the story spends about a dozen paragraphs describing the King v. Burwell case and how that could affect people like Schramm. Eventually, we return to her story, and we learn something else about her:

She knows she needs chemotherapy and knows she can’t afford it without health-insurance coverage.

She can’t pay an $800 monthly premium on her $28,000 annual income (mostly from a state pension) if her subsidies disappear. She’s thought about dipping into her retirement savings, but hopes to hold onto those for her actual retirement.

“I guess I could do that in the very short term since I have to finish my chemo treatment,” she says.

So by her own admission, Schramm could “do that,” at least in the short term. And given that Schramm is 63 years old, and therefore less than two years from getting Medicare, short term is exactly we’re talking about.

Vox likely got Schramm’s story from this amicus brief filed by a collection of women’s groups. Here is how her story is presented in the brief which is dated last month:

Marilyn has now been diagnosed with colon cancer; following surgery, she began chemotherapy this month. Her coverage depends on the ACA’s prohibition on excluding those with pre-existing conditions, and on its premium tax credits: With her modest retirement income, Marilyn is unsure whether or how she could pay her insurance premium without the tax credits.
So what those considering this brief were told was that Schramm was “unsure” if she could cover the cost of her insurance to finish her chemo. But what Schramm just told Vox is that, yes, if necessary she could cover that cost by digging into her savings. So, contrary to the splashy headline, the Supreme Court will not decide if Marilyn Schramm gets chemotherapy.

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