Katy man gets a special seat for State of the Union
Of all the special guests invited to hear President Obama's State of the Union address tonight, James Howard of Katy considers himself perhaps the luckiest — that he's even alive to make the trip.
Howard, 28, credits Obama's health care reform legislation for providing him with insurance coverage so that he could receive treatment for a rare form of cancer.
"Without the insurance plan I'm on, I wouldn't be alive today," Howard said. "I'm living testimony as to how this has helped out in my life. With the treatment and my family, friends and faith, I've been able to get this to work out."
Almost a year ago, Howard learned why he was suffering from excruciating headaches: a rare type of malignant brain tumor which doctors have limited ability to treat.
'Facing a death sentence'
Almost as devastating was the news that his insurance company would not pay for what treatment there was because it claimed his condition pre-existed the effective date of his policy.
"It was like facing a death sentence," said Howard, a sales manager for Hennessey Performance, a "tuner shop" that modifies production cars to give them more horsepower and better handling.
Howard's diagnosis — gliomatosis cerebri — translated into an octopus-like mass in his brain and a course of treatment that promised to be stunningly expensive. Chemotherapy alone would run more than $25,000 a week.
Howard exhausted what funds he had and his church, The Waters, set up a foundation to help. But it was not going to be enough.
Then came health reform legislation, part of which was a special high-risk insurance pool set up to cover seriously ill people who had been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It took effect immediately, unlike many of the legislation's other measures.
'Little part' looms large
Whatever the political controversies attached to some elements of insurance reform, Howard is happy that doing away with the dreaded phrase "pre-existing conditions" is not one of them.
"Sometimes the good things get overshadowed by the politics of the entire bill," he said. "I don't even know all the parts of it. All I can tell is my little part of the bill and what it has meant for me."
So Howard has been speaking out publicly about the importance of covering ill people denied because of pre-existing problems.
As a reward, the White House invited Howard to sit in first lady Michelle Obama's guest box Tuesday night. There also will be receptions before and after the event.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm originally from that area, so it's a going home thing. But it has a purpose."
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