In policy and political debates, we often forget the human impact of weighty choices. Abstract numbers, ideological arguments, “he said, she said” talking points and outright falsehoods — these are the currency of our public discourse.
But elections and policies have real consequences in the everyday lives of ordinary families. As Congress considers repeal of the Affordable Care Act, we at the Center for American Progress (CAP) are collecting stories from people who would be affected. In some cases, their very lives are at stake.
Ohio resident Paula Chenevey, 52, was an uninsured massage therapist when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. The cancer metastasized to her brain and liver. In 2014, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich expanded the Medicaid program as a result of the Affordable Care Act, making her eligible for coverage. Since then, Paula has received lifesaving treatment: chemotherapy every three weeks, daily medication, MRIs every three months, CT scans every four months, and gamma knife treatments for recurring brain lesions. Her drugs cost: $28,000 every three weeks.
Although Paula’s life expectancy had been only 12 months to 18 months, her prognosis is now stable. She works part-time, volunteers and spends time with her children and grandchildren: “The ACA saved, and continues to save, my life. That is not an exaggeration. This treatment is keeping me alive.”
Namir Yedid, 35, a computer software entrepreneur, was diagnosed with a rare tumor in 2015. He required multiple surgeries to remove the tumor and a reconstruction of his chest. Luckily, he was covered by a plan offered through California’s health insurance marketplace and received tax credits to defray the cost. Without insurance coverage, which capped his out-of-pocket costs, medical bills exceeding $150,000 would have plunged him into bankruptcy.
Namir, who saw CAP's request for stories on Twitter, has been clear of cancer for one year, but he needs insurance to pay for follow-up care. He worries what might come next if the ACA is repealed. “As a self-employed entrepreneur, the ACA is the difference between financial ruin and the security of knowing I have good insurance,” he told us. For all the Republican talk about empowering entrepreneurs, said Namir, he would not have been able to start his own business without Obamacare.
Cameron Zeigler, 44, was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He had a long career as a social worker in Roanoke, Va., but he became so sick that he had to stop working last May. When he left his employer, his COBRA premium was $1,300 a month and consumed his disability benefit. But he found a “gold” level plan through HealthCare.gov, the online ACA marketplace, for $450 per month without a subsidy.
Cameron takes six medications for dementia. Without them, he believes, he would be unable to care for himself, and he would become a danger to himself or others. He believes that he would likely end up in an institutional setting to keep him safe. “I love my home, my wife and my dog, and I cannot imagine having to live separately. My prognosis is not good, but Obamacare allows me to receive the care I need to be myself as long as possible. Without Obamacare, my illness will progress more rapidly until I die.”
Lisa Martin, 35, wanted to start her own website consulting business in Alexandria, Va., but was dependent on her employer’s health insurance. In 2014, a door opened: She could buy insurance through HealthCare.gov. Shortly after she purchased a policy and launched her company, she had a stroke at the age of 32. After seeing CAP's link on Twitter, she told us that without the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, she knows that she would not be able to afford insurance: “I’m really scared. That stroke came out of nowhere. It can happen to anyone.”
These people are Democrats who say the ACA has figured in their presidential votes. But more than 20 million Americans of all political persuasions have insurance under the law, and many are terrified that they will lose a great source of peace of mind and financial security. Their fears are legitimate. Republicans promise that an eventual replacement plan will come, but only two or three years after repeal. In the meantime, as many experts across the political spectrum have cautioned, insurance companies will become skittish and either exit the markets or dramatically hike premiums to compensate for the uncertainty.
A strategy to repeal the ACA now and replace it later, then, will likely collapse the market for individual policies. As several conservative commentators have warned, this is not a winning political approach for Republicans.