The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has dramatically affected the future of our nation’s health care. The fate of Obamacare could very well be decided mere days after the election, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about its validity on Nov. 10. And without Ginsburg on the court, the conservative wing may finally have the votes to declare the landmark law unconstitutional.
But while health care for millions of Americans is more precarious than ever, conservative politicians are trying to gaslight voters with election-year sleight of hand. Polls show that the Affordable Care Act has become popular with both Democrats and independents, and protecting people with pre-existing conditions is supported across the board. But rather than moderate or improve their own positions, President Donald Trump and Republicans are choosing to obfuscate congressional history.
I am watching this happen with my own senator, Cory Gardner. Gardner has voted at least nine times in the last three years to undermine Obamacare. However, he’s now attempting to rewrite his own record with a fig leaf of a bill that he erroneously (according to experts) claims would protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. Gardner, who is up for re-election this year and is considered a “vulnerable” Republican, is airing false TV commercials claiming to be a protector of people with pre-existing conditions. People like me. But these commercials are pure political spin.
Hypocrisy aside, Gardner’s lies are personal for me. Three years ago, I walked into a doctor’s office with a nagging cough. I walked out with a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
I survived surgery in the hospital and another hospitalization after that, followed by six months of biweekly poisonings of my body via chemotherapy and then a month of burning my body through radiation.
That should have been the hard part.
The day after my first chemotherapy appointment, Republicans in the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the insurance that was helping keep me alive. While I lay on my couch, bone tired and afraid and unsure what terrible side effects awaited me, House Republicans drank beer and celebrated on the White House lawn.
I’ve been self-employed for over a decade — I don’t have a health insurance Plan B. Before the Affordable Care Act, I had a junk insurance plan. If I still did today, I would likely be, at the very least, buried in medical debt.
If Obamacare is repealed and insurance companies can pick and choose their customers again, I worry that no insurance company would ever choose to cover somebody like me. I face the very real possibility of cancer recurring, with lifesaving treatment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m in remission, but life has no guarantees.
As I struggled through the chemo-and-recovery cycle again and again through most of 2017, I’d check the news every day to find out what new deadly gimmick Republicans in the Senate were proposing.
In July of that year, we came within one vote of losing in the Senate. Thanks to Sen. John McCain, we held on, but by the slimmest of margins. I was living in Nevada at the time, and that September, my own senator then, Dean Heller, stepped forward and proposed yet another Obamacare repeal plan.
To add insult to injury, Trump himself blocked me on Twitter after I criticized plans to repeal Obamacare, and he then tweeted hours later in support of Heller’s proposal.
Thankfully, that repeal bill was defeated days later. But Republicans in Congress were not done with their health care sabotage. In early December 2017, the Republican-led Senate voted for the Trump tax bill, which included a provision to gut the Affordable Care Act mandate.
That vote set up the case before the Supreme Court that now threatens the entire Affordable Care Act.
Even after control of the House flipped in the 2018 midterm elections, this court case loomed. I knew at the end of that year that I had to move to a state that had good state-level protections, just in case Obamacare were invalidated. During the open enrollment period, four states had the state-level protections I was looking for. And so at the beginning of last year, I said goodbye to Nevada and became a Coloradan.
But I found my new senator had also turned against me. So last summer, I traveled on a bus across Colorado with other activists in search of Gardner, whose last public town hall was in 2017. Last fall, I even went to New York City to try to talk to him in person, with no luck.
I have been to Gardner’s offices countless times to beg him to stop the legal attack on the ACA and to stand up for people with pre-existing conditions like me. 135 million Americans have pre-existing conditions, and many of us are uninsurable without the Affordable Care Act. And make no mistake, there is no workable plan to replace Obamacare if it is struck down. Millions more may join our ranks as they recover from Covid-19. Without insurance, many of us will die.
Gardner is not the only one attempting to mislead us about their record on health care. Trump has also repeatedly claimed that he is trying to protect or “save” pre-existing condition protections while simultaneously attacking the Affordable Care Act and any mechanism to ensure that people have comprehensive affordable coverage. On Thursday afternoon, Trump announced two executive orders on health care, one on pre-existing conditions and one on surprise billing. But without accompanying regulations of insurance companies such as in the Affordable Care Act, these are just more fig leafs.
Other Republican senators have taken Trump’s lead. David Perdue of Georgia, Martha McSally of Arizona and Steve Daines of Montana have run TV ads claiming to protect people with pre-existing conditions despite their own voting records, and Thom Tillis, once one of the chief opponents of expanding Medicaid in North Carolina, is now silent on health care. Joni Ernst of Iowa has also voted again and again to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, yet she claims it’s “vitally important” to protect people with pre-existing conditions.
Despite what they say on television about protecting the most vulnerable, one by one the Republican senators are all getting in line behind Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. We don’t yet know who that is, but we can assume how he or she will vote on Obamacare.
People with pre-existing conditions like me are again terrified of losing our insurance, this time in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve lived through years of scary uncertainty and now months of sheltering in place. Enough is enough. We are all health care voters now. We’ll see whether our wavering senators are health care voters, too.
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