Editor’s Note: Early on Friday, February 10, Representative Tom Price was confirmed as the secretary of health and human services.
Much of the conversation around the Affordable Care Act—and its potential repeal—has focused on numbers and figures: bending the cost curve, lowering the insurance rate, or slowing health care inflation. But lost in this conversation are the millions of people who owe their medication, treatment, preventive care, and in many cases their lives to the Affordable Care Act.
Representative Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee the ACA repeal, has proposed a replacement for the law that would leave young people, Americans with pre-existing conditions, women, and people with disabilities at the mercy of the health insurance industry. This would quite literally put the lives of his own constituents at risk.
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Below are the stories of three people from Tom Price’s district in Georgia who owe their health coverage to the Affordable Care Act.
1. Vicki Hopper
Vicki Hopper had been uninsured for nearly two years before she purchased health insurance on ACA exchanges in Georgia. Two days later she went to have a mammogram and was told to come back for a more extensive evaluation. Two days after that, she found out she had breast cancer. Since then, she has had 10 surgeries, including biopsies, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery.
In Vicki’s case, the Affordable Care Act may have quite literally saved her life. Mammograms, let alone cancer treatment and surgeries, are incredibly expensive and would have likely been impossible without health insurance coverage. Even if Vicki had found out she had breast cancer, insurance companies would have been able to charge her exorbitant rates or outright deny her coverage because cancer qualifies as a pre-existing condition. But under the ACA, routine health benefits like cancer screening, treatment, and follow-up care are required.
As Vicki told us, “If it wasn’t for Obamacare, I would be homeless.”
2. The Kush Family
Patricia Kush knows exactly how devastating an ACA repeal would be, because she remembers what life was like before Congress passed the legislation. In 2004, Patricia’s husband was diagnosed with diabetes. He was working over 40 hours a week, but his employer didn’t offer health insurance. He tried to get individual coverage through the insurance market, but insurance companies refused to cover his diabetes-related expenses. Because he couldn’t afford an expensive insurance plan and the out-of-pocket costs for diabetes medications, he went without health insurance.
In 2007, Patricia’s husband was hospitalized for serious complications from his illness. He survived, but his time in the hospital cost the couple almost $30,000. “We were lucky, Patricia says, “He didn’t die. The hospital forgave a chunk of the costs, and because of good credit, we were able to get a 10-year loan to pay off the rest of the medical bills. But not everyone is as lucky as we were.”
These days, Patricia’s husband is on her health insurance, but their future is far from secure. “If something happened to me, or I lost my job, and Obamacare had been repealed, he would be in real trouble,” Patricia says. Because he has a pre-existing condition, insurance companies would not be required to cover him if Obamacare were repealed outright. “Even though we don’t currently use the health care exchanges, I feel as if it is very important to tell our story from when my husband wasn’t able to get insurance,” she told us. “It would be devastating for so many families if Obamacare is repealed.”
3. Josh Carter
When his son was born in 2014, Josh was working in a stressful and difficult job. According to his wife Sarah, the anxiety and long hours were placing a major strain on the whole family, but they needed the job to be able to support themselves. By the time their son turned one, Josh’s health and the family’s quality of life were suffering. Josh was eventually able to find a contract job to provide for his family, with one major catch—it didn’t include health benefits. But because Obamacare provides people with access to insurance marketplaces, he was able to find health coverage for him, his wife, and his baby through the exchanges and take a new job.
As important as coverage was for Josh, it was even more important for his son. Since the ACA was passed, nearly 2 million kids have gained health insurance that includes essential screenings and immunizations. Josh’s son benefited from blood pressure screening, vision screening, lead screening, and oral health risk assessments.
“My husband would never have been able to take this opportunity if it wasn’t for the ACA and the ability to buy affordable health insurance outside of his employer,” his wife Sarah says. His contract job turned into a permanent job that he loves—an opportunity he would not have had without access to safe, affordable health care.
If Tom Price listened to his constituents, he would hear thousands of stories like these. Vicki, Patricia, Josh and their families all benefited from coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In Vicki’s case, it probably saved her life. Repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that covers the people who currently depend on it would simply cost lives.
If Tom Price is going to continue his plot to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he owes people like Vicki, Josh, and Patricia a plan that ensures they can continue to get the coverage they need.