Lawmakers joined patient advocates and people sharing personal health care stories Wednesday to speak out against the the Trump administration lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
The event, held outside Sen. Thom Tillis’ office in downtown Raleigh, was part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour, which seeks to highlight what the group says is the danger to more than 100 million Americans protected by the ACA.
“If the Trump administration and the coalition of Republican-led states backing this suit have their way, the courts will do what President Trump and the U.S. Senate have tried and failed to do — overturn the Affordable Care Act,” said Felicia Burnett, Healthcare Director for MomsRising.
“This will threaten protections for 130 million people living with pre-existing conditions,” Burnett said. “People like me, many of you and moms all across this country.”
Burnett shared the story of her son Ethan, who was born with a vascular tumor that required chemotherapy and an external port placed in his heart that needed constant monitoring to avoid infection. Burnett had to leave her job and forego her health insurance to care for him.
“I am one of countless parents in North Carolina who can say that our Medicaid program literally save my child’s life,” said Burnett.
But once Ethan got better, Burnett found it difficult to find insurance on the individual marketplace because she had a pre-existing condition and a gap in coverage.
The Affordable Care Act changed all that, she said. Insurance companies could no longer refuse to offer coverage to her family because of she and Ethan’s pre-existing conditions.
But that guarantee — that Americans won’t find themselves denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition — isn’t the Affordable Care Act’s only virtue, Burnett said. It also prevents insurers from charging women more than men for coverage, prevents caps that deny coverage when patients who have paid into their plan need it most and allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance coverage until age 26.
“If the Trump lawsuit succeeds, all that goes away,” Burnett said. “More than 20 million Americans — including a half a million North Carolinians — will lose their health insurance.”
Leslie Boyd spoke at Wednesday’s event while holding a photo of her son Michael, who died in 2008. He was unable to get health care coverage because his birth defect was considered a pre-existing condition, she said.
“I’ll tell you that I think the Affordable Care Act has some pretty deep flaws,” Boyd said. “But we need to fix those and move forward — not break it and move back. My son died because a birth defect was a pre-existing condition, as though he chose it. They made him feel dirty when he tried to get insurance.”
After the Affordable Care Act, Boyd worked as an ACA navigator. She worked with other mothers who feared their children would die without coverage, she said. Having fixed that terrible flaw in the health care system, she said, it is unthinkable to go back.
“These people want to take it back and let an American die every twelve minutes — that’s what it was before the Affordable Care Act,” Boyd said.
“We need the Affordable Care Act to reign in corporate insurance companies,” Boyd said. “We need it strengthened.”
N.C. Senator Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) was on hand Wednesday to share his own story.
In 1985, McKissick was shot in a convenience store that he owned. He needed seven separate surgeries. He was lucky enough to have health insurance through Kaiser Permanante, he said — but when that company pulled out of North Carolina he had to go looking for new coverage. That’s when he found out his having been shot made him ineligible for many health plans or for coverage related to that injury. He now had a pre-existing condition.
Not every story is that dramatic, McKissick said — many common chronic illnesses also kept people from getting coverage before the Affordable Care Act.
“When we’re talking about pre-existing conditions it could be high blood pressure, it could be asthma, it could be chronic lung diseases or join disorders,” McKissick said.
“The whole goal of this case was simply to sabotage the Affordable Care Act was to allow the Trump Administration and its allies to go in and basically just eliminate the Affordable Care Act,” McKissick said. “Something they were unable to do through the legislative process.”
Elimination of the act would lead to a 43 percent increase in those who are uninsured in North Carolina, McKissick said.
McKissick encouraged people to meet with their Senators and congressional representatives while Congress is in recess, telling them they won’t tolerate the elimination of the ACA.
Senator Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) was also on hand Wednesday. Before she was an elected official she was an ACA navigator, she said, and saw firsthand how what the act meant to those who needed coverage.
She recounted the stories of a man who came to her with kidney pain so severe he had to lay on the floor in her office and another who needed knee surgery after years of construction work but didn’t have coverage before the ACA.
“It has helped millions of people and helped stabilize insurance premiums for all of us,” Van Duyn said. “We need to move forward with it and not keeping messing around with it like we have.”
Nicole Dozier is Health Advocacy Project Director for the N.C. Justice Center, the parent organization of N.C. Policy Watch. In her remarks Wednesday she focused on the health care consequences of the current legislative session in Raleigh.
The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. Though it needs improvement, she said, it can’t be thrown out. And lawmakers in North Carolina need to make investments in our state that go beyond its protections, she said – including expanding Medicaid to those still living in the coverage gap.
“You may have heard we have a budget stalemate,” Dozier said.
The budget passed by the General Assembly ad vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper doesn’t make proper investments in North Carolina, Dozier said — in health care, the expansion of Medicaid and beyond.
“We are a great state here in North Carolina,” Dozier said. “I believe we can walk and chew gum. We can expand Medicaid and fully fund public schools. It doesn’t have to be an either/or. If our lawmakers stand firm that they want those things in the budget, then it does give our governor a seat at the table to leverage things, to access proper and quality affordable health care for all.”
“If you say you love North Carolina I’m asking you to fund North Carolina, “Dozier said.