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As a Montanan who is currently living with metastatic breast cancer, I and most people I know agree — we shouldn’t have to choose between paying our bills or feeding our families and paying for our health care costs. Nor should we deplete our savings or tap into retirement accounts to pay medical bills due to chronic or debilitating diseases, like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. And no child in Montana should ever go without health care due to a family’s inability to pay for their care. Sadly, for many of my friends and neighbors, these tough choices are a daily reality.

I first battled breast cancer in 2007, and again in 2011, before the Affordable Care Act was enacted. At the time, a pre-existing condition made the only insurance available to me a high-deductible, high-premium, high-risk pool. My cancer diagnoses were devastating both physically and financially, forcing me to pay more than 60 percent of my income on my cancer care. Born with a breast cancer gene, the ACA finally freed me from discrimination for a pre-existing condition. When my cancer came back and spread in 2016, my health care was finally affordable again.

But now, health care costs are once again on the rise for me and other Montana families — and state Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale has made things worse. My cancer returned a fourth time in 2017, and this year, my health insurance premium costs have increased dramatically. My choice of health insurance policies has also dwindled. In 2018 I was forced to choose a high-priced plan because it was the only one available that would cover the targeted cancer therapy that is keeping me alive.

Right now, it’s rate review season in Montana. This means that health insurance companies are currently submitting their proposals for how much they will charge Montana families for health insurance. Thanks to Matt Rosendale, Montana families and people like me are at real risk of seeing their health care costs and their premiums skyrocket.

As Montana’s state insurance commissioner, Matt Rosendale has the power to hold insurance companies accountable for the rate hikes they want to pass on to Montana families. Just last year, during the annual rate review process, Rosendale publicly condemned the proposed rate increases of up to 23 percent — only to turn around and rubber-stamp those very same hikes (Fox News, July 13, 2017).

Not only did Rosendale fail to stand up against higher costs for Montanans, he was called out by Montana newspapers for his confusion about the process and “appear[ing] to misunderstand Blue Cross' explanation for its rate increase.” As a result, Montana families and folks fighting cancer and other chronic conditions have had to pay significantly more for their health insurance this year, and those health care costs are set to rise again.

During this year’s review, Rosendale should be focusing less on campaigning and fundraising and more on the people of Montana by holding public meetings with Montanans and stakeholders and doing the job he was elected to do. We need lower insurance rates and it’s his job to protect the people of Montana from inflated health care costs and from being penalized for having a pre-existing condition. We deserve better from our elected officials. Rosendale needs to reassess his priorities. The health care needs and financial security of Montana families are at stake.

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Paula McGarvey is a freelance writer and photographer in Butte, and has been fighting cancer for 11 years.

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