WASHINGTON (PAI) — Diane Fleming has thyroid cancer. If it wasn’t for Medicare, Fleming, a dignified 75-year-old woman and a retired Machinist who worked as a reservations and ticket agent for United Airlines for 39 years, couldn’t get treatment for it.
Holly Jensen, 39, of Cleveland, is a consultant for non-profit organizations. As a member of the “gig economy,” she built a business. But pay is irregular and health insurance is non-existent. And Jensen had undiagnosed depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and withdrew from the world and even from her mother and siblings. The business fell apart.
“The Affordable Care Act was a godsend,” she said, in paying for the mental health and psychiatric care she needed to put her life together again.
Alyce Ornella, of Harpswell, Maine, is a young mother whose 2-year-old son, Sam, is a live wire – at least at a press conference. Ornella and her husband signed up for Maine’s health care exchange, established under the ACA.
All was well through her pregnancy, but Sam was born with such an array of ailments that he qualifies for Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicaid. Without the ACA for them and the two other programs for him, the Ornellas would be unable to care for Sam.
Fleming, Ornella and Jensen were three of a group of witnesses whom Democratic senators gathered in D.C. to discuss what repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would mean to real people.
The three and their colleagues testified in the context of the looming Republican Trump administration and particularly Trump’s nominee, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to run the Health and Human Services Department. HHS administers the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid and Price is an outspoken and vitriolic foe of all three.
The facts and figures the Democratic senators cited at their informal hearing are stark: If the GOP repeals the Affordable Care Act, which it insults with the snide name “Obamacare,” 20 million-30 million people, including Jensen, could lose their health care coverage. The ACA bans insurers from turning down people with pre-existing conditions, so Jensen was covered. If it’s repealed, she wouldn’t be.
And if Price and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., succeed in their scheme to turn Medicare into a voucher plan – sending seniors out to look for and buy health care on their own – no insurer would take Fleming on, due to the costs of her MRIs, screening, lab tests and other treatments for thyroid cancer.
The Republicans also want to make Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and near poor, into a block grant and turn it over to the states – possibly without enough money. That would leave Sam Ornella out in the cold, with his parents facing his huge medical bills.
“Medicaid provided for Sam’s kidney doctors, and tests for all parts of his body affected by disorders,” Alyce Ornella told the packed small hearing room. After Sam was born and his ills became apparent, her husband had to take a regular job – one that keeps him away from his wife and son for long periods of time – because it offered health insurance, she said.
Before signing up for the exchange and before Sam was born, the Ornellas went without insurance. It would have cost them $1,200 monthly. The exchange charged $200.
“What if my husband lost his job and Sam lost Medicaid?” Ornella asked. “It would be a double whammy on us.”
“I’ve had CT scans, sonograms, MRIs, needle biopsies – all of them would cost $2,000 each – and blood tests,” said Fleming, a D.C. resident and member of the labor-backed Alliance for Retired Americans. “I don’t know how I would have been able to have all those treatments and tests done without Medicare….It has made my cancer bearable. With vouchers, I wouldn’t be able to get insurance, or afford it if I could.”
Jensen said that not only did Medicaid pay for her mental health care, which let her put her life and business back together, but she was able to find a sympathetic clinic in Cleveland whose nurses properly diagnosed her and treated her symptoms. It also removed the stigma of seeking mental health help, she said – a stigma that still affects sufferers and the general public, Jensen noted.
All of that progress and all of that aid for individuals would be undone by GOP plans to kill the ACA and trash the other two programs, the Senate Democrats who convened the informal hearing, said. The women and their colleagues urged the Dems to stand up in the programs’ defense, and the senators promised to do so.
It may not be easy. One solon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told the group that Price proposes cutting $449 billion in Medicare and more than $1 trillion, over a period of years, from Medicaid.
The GOP-run Congress, just days before, took the first steps in its plan to kill the ACA and cut the two other programs, by telling its committees, through a “reconciliation” bill, to get to work on such schemes.
Price also authored legislation to kill the Affordable Care Act, and replace it with very little. The GOP-run Congress passed the kill legislation several years ago – and Democratic President Barack Obama vetoed it. But Obama isn’t president any more. Donald Trump is.
“What’s he (Trump) going to do with the money” that cutting Medicare and Medicaid saves, Fleming asked the senators. “What’s he going to use it for?” “Tax cuts for the rich,” Warren replied.