The Eric De La Cruz Hope For Hearts Foundation today marked the second anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a pledge of $5,000 toward uncovered expenses incurred by the family of Colby Salerno, a 24-year old student awaiting a heart transplant in Connecticut. The Foundation raised the funds in a benefit wine mixer in New York City last month and has announced plans to host similar events throughout the year to benefit those who still need assistance, despite the enactment of the historic health care reform legislation in 2010.
“We have come a long way toward establishing the right to access to affordable health care, but we still have miles to go,” stated Hope For Hearts founder and television journalist Veronica De La Cruz. “Many of the provisions in the ACA have yet to be implemented, and of course the legislation is still being challenged by some, but the needs of so many heart transplant patients still facing difficulty obtaining insurance and catastrophic medical bills remain. So, even while we celebrate the benefits which are helping so many previously uninsured people get life-saving treatment, there are enormous cracks that people are still sliding through.”
Since she founded the Hope For Hearts Foundation in 2010, De La Cruz has been helping such people. Most recently, one of the transplant candidates the Foundation has been supporting, Las Vegas resident Sean Semon, finally received insurance coverage through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), established last year as part of the Affordable Care Act. The new coverage promises to pay for much of his treatment and transplant surgery, a prospect that seemed nearly unthinkable when the De La Cruz first met Sean in 2009.
“When Sean’s transplant was denied by his insurer at the time (Aetna), it really underscored a fundamental problem with our insurance system,” added De La Cruz. “The inability for people who don’t have coverage, and cannot get coverage due to pre-existing conditions, is nothing short of a catastrophe for them, their family and, ultimately, for all of us. I am overjoyed at the news that Sean has been accepted for coverage under the federal government’s new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a provision that I personally fought so hard for after my brother Eric passed away in 2009 while waiting for a heart transplant delayed because insurers refused to cover him.”
In addition to forming the nonprofit Eric De La Cruz Hope For Hearts Foundation in 2010 to provide financial assistance to transplant patients in need, De La Cruz also spent substantial personal time supporting efforts to change healthcare laws to bring access to life-saving care to all citizens. Her visits to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers like Harry Reid and Charles Schumer gave her perspective of the hard-fought gains the ACA has brought to people like the Semon family.
Salerno is another transplant candidate whom the Hope For Hearts Foundation reached out to help after learning of his struggle through local news reports. Suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for most of his life, Colby’s doctors have run out of treatments for his condition and acknowledge that a transplant is the only cure, and one which could be needed soon. In Colby’s case, the increasing shortage of donor organs is extending his agonizing wait atop the state’s transplant list. Though his condition is currently stable, he has been living in a hospital for the past three months and his family wishes the need for organ donation was more widely appreciated. To that end, the Foundation has begun a campaign aimed at encouraging people to learn about the process and register to become an organ donor so that people like Salerno do not need to risk their lives waiting for months as potential donor organs are wasted.
“The continued struggles of both the Semon and Salerno families,” notes De La Cruz, “illustrate the ongoing nature of the challenges facing those who need heart transplants – in terms of insurance coverage and monumental medical costs, as well as a decreasing availability of donor organs, especially in some areas of the country.”
De La Cruz noted that recent gains are helping, but are not a cure-all: “The Affordable Care Act has brought more people who were previously uninsured under coverage, and the new laws are enhancing the access we all have to more affordable care. But we have so far to go and because so many of the provisions have not kicked in yet, or are being challenged in court, we really must ramp up our efforts to help those in need. We have been really proud to help families like those of Sean and Colby on their road to overcoming these challenges, but the need is still great for more help – both philanthropically and through changes to our healthcare system and to the laws that govern it.”
In addition to the fundraising event in New York at the end of February, which was also National Heart Health Month, the Hope For Hearts Foundation also ran a “Tip-A-Day For Heart Health” campaign through its social media presences. De La Cruz has announced that she is planning several additional events in coming months to help further promote organ donation and raise funds for heart transplant patients who remain uninsured or under-insured.
Those interested in learning more about how to support the Hope For Hearts Foundation and the transplant patients that they assist should visit the organization’s website at www.hopeforheartsfoundation.org.
About The Hope For Hearts Foundation & Veronica De La Cruz
On July 4, 2009, Eric De La Cruz ran out of time waiting for a life-saving heart transplant. Founded by Eric’s sister Veronica, the Eric De La Cruz Hope For Hearts Foundation now provides financial assistance, educational resources, and advocacy for other heart transplant patients and their families as they face the daunting task of getting the second chance at life that Eric did not.
Veronica De La Cruz is an MSNBC anchor and one of the current hosts of NBC’s Early Today Show and MSNBC’s First Look. In addition to her role as an MSNBC anchor, De La Cruz is an active volunteer with groups promoting healthcare reform. Ms. De La Cruz’s full bio is available at MSNBC’s website and two recent MSNBC PSA’s on heart health can be viewed on the Foundation’s video page.