By Sara Prem

Breathing is essential to life, yet most of us rarely worry that our ability to breathe will be compromised by lung disease. That’s why for more than 115 years the American Lung Association has worked tirelessly to illustrate the importance of lung health and access to life-saving healthcare to treat lung disease. Our work is vital for the 336,000 Kansans who cope with lung disease every day. People like Renee Dietchman of Merriam, Kansas. Here is her story…

Renee never expected she would have lung cancer until she found out she did. Finding it was an accident. She was on her way to a hair appointment and had made a quick stop at the hospital to have copies of a recent MRI forwarded. As she left the hospital parking lot, she backed into a small pole and immediately felt her left arm snap in two. She was helped to the ER for x-rays where they found a tumor in her arm which had spread from a tumor in her right lung. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer.

Renee’s life changed drastically that day. Further CTs and MRIs found tumors in her brain and on her adrenal gland. She felt like she had just received a death sentence. However, she began an intensive round of meetings with oncologists and other physicians who were encouraging and so she began treatment and learn how to cope with lung disease.

Renee and her husband were lucky to have the means to purchase health insurance. Both retired professionals and savvy consumers, they still ended up with a plan that was completely inadequate and would not cover the treatment she needed to survive lung cancer. Her oncologist prescribed an immunological drug called Keytruda. Unfortunately, the drug was expensive and Renee incurred $40,000 of medical debt before she was able to secure comprehensive healthcare coverage. Fortunately, the drug was effective so instead of being told that she might have 18 months to live, Renee is in remission and living her life.

Fortunately, Renee and her husband had the financial resources to manage the costs of treating her cancer. Many Kansans are not so fortunate. Kansas is one of very few states that has yet to expand Medicaid. Expanding KanCare eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($29,974 per year for a family of three) would cover over 150,000 Kansans. This means access to the comprehensive healthcare coverage, including preventive services, emergency care and hospitalizations, that lung disease patients like Renee need to breathe.

These are certainly uncertain times as Kansas and the nation struggles with COVID-19 but our legislators have the power to restore some certainty for 150,000 of our neighbors who desperately need access to healthcare. On behalf of lung disease patients across the state, the American Lung Association in Kansas & Greater Kansas City urges state legislators to expand Kancare in the 2021 legislative session.

Sara Prem is an advocacy specialist for the American Lung Association in Kansas and Greater Kansas City