Laura Packard, Opinion contributor
Published 6:00 a.m. ET March 22, 2020 | Updated 1:23 p.m. ET March 23, 2020
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On its 10th anniversary, as coronavirus creates many more with preexisting conditions, we wait anxiously for a final diagnosis on the fate of this law.
I’m a stage 4 cancer patient who was blocked by President Donald Trump on Twitter. Like the Affordable Care Act at age 10, I’m in wobblier shape at 43. But we’re both still here.
As a young communications staffer full of hope after President Barack Obama’s election, the AFL-CIO sent me to Arkansas in early 2009 to do on-the-ground organizing. After months of working with people who had lost everything to our broken health care system, we thought the law was passed, our job was done, and the path now led towards everyone getting covered.
It didn’t quite turn out like that. But the law did help millions of people, and eventually, me.
Fast forward to April of 2017 in Nevada. As a healthy 40-year-old, a nagging cough brought me to a doctor’s office. I walked out, my life forever changed with a diagnosis of stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. The treatment plan called for six months of chemotherapy, culminating with a month of radiation to the chest. If I could survive the cure, I had a good chance of outliving the disease.
Staying alive and protesting repeal
Fortunately, I had the insurance to pay for all this. I was living in Las Vegas at the time, and I had purchased a market-rate policy on the Affordable Care Act exchange as a small business owner. Cancer is expensive. It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to save my life. I would be bankrupt or dead without the ACA.
But the day after my first chemotherapy session, Republicans in the House voted to take away my health care by repealing the Affordable Care Act. With my health care and the care of millions of others at stake, I couldn’t just concentrate on staying alive. I had little control over my body. Yet I still had control over my story.
So I joined many others and spoke up. Again and again I dragged myself through treatment and to local events to urge my senator, Dean Heller, to do the right thing and stop the repeal. To no avail. However, thanks to fearless activists around the country, a series of bad Republican bills would be halted, one by one.
I spoke up online too, tweeting critically at our president off and on all year. Then I woke up one day in September to find that he had blocked me on Twitter overnight.
I did finally meet Sen. Heller at a public event at the end of 2017. I was thrown out for daring to ask him about his health care record.
And then, at last, my cancer and GOP attacks on our health care went into remission.
President Trump was even forced to unblock me after the Knight First Amendment Institute sent a letter to the Justice Department, but the partisan attacks on our care continue underneath the surface. They gaslight us, claiming to protect people with pre-existing conditions while quietly stripping the protections we need to survive.
When Trump signed tax reforms into law, that bill included a provision to remove the individual mandate for health insurance. This set up the groundwork for the court case which now threatens the entire ACA. The Supreme Court will hear the case this fall, and likely rule next year. Ten years after the ACA was signed into law, the fate of up to 135 millionpeople with preexisting conditions hangs in the balance. Many of us are uninsurable without the law, and many will not survive without insurance.
Now coronavirus is creating more people each day without health insurance, as they lose their jobs and coverage. It's also adding more with preexisting conditions — left with serious lung disease after they recover.
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Uncertainty around health care imposes enormous costs. In the fall of 2018, I knew I had to protect myself in case the impending court ruling came down negatively. With my health history, insurance would never be obtainable without the ACA. I have to do whatever it takes to keep my insurance. So I began looking for a new place to live, with good state-level protections. I found it in Colorado.
We shouldn't have to live like this
I am lucky to be able to afford relocating as a health care refugee. I’m a self-employed digital consultant and can work from anywhere, and don’t have a spouse or kids to take into account.
I can live like this, but we shouldn’t have to live like this. Millions of people can’t pick up and move to find the best place to live based on a patchwork of limited state-based solutions, and we shouldn’t have to take on a full time unpaid job as activists just to have a shot at keeping health insurance.
As the ACA bounces through the courts, we endure the stress of waiting for results, for a final diagnosis on the future of this law. Are tax cuts for the rich worth more than my life, the lives of thousands of Coloradans, and millions of Americans?
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Republicans including my senator, Cory Gardner, voted again and again for repeal without any protections for the most vulnerable and installed activist Supreme Court justices determined to strip our care. They could be working on making health care more affordable and accessible to all, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Instead they focus on pushing junk insurance plans, ratcheting up work requirements to strip health care away from low income people, and dismantling the protections of the ACA for all. In this moment, we can see that our health care system was last on their priority list.
Now, in the time of coronavirus, it’s more clear than ever that when a health care system does not work for some of us, it fails us all. Ten years after the ACA was born, on March 23, 2010, we need leaders who will fight to protect our care. Some of us will not survive without it.
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