On Thursday afternoon, by the narrowest of margins, Republican lawmakers passed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Pleased with their victory, they popped Bud Lights and abruptly took buses to the White House to celebrate with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden.
Meanwhile, those actually dependent on Obamacare were anxiously wondering what happens next. Some of them were following the action on the House floor while in their doctor’s offices receiving treatment.
The House bill will almost certainly not become law in its current form. But its passage portends a sharp turn away from the patient protections and coverage subsidies that they have come to rely on in Obamacare’s brief existence. The bill dramatically cuts Medicaid coverage, to the tune of $840 billion less. It also undermines the provisions that prevent insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions by allowing states to seek waivers that would eliminate rules prohibiting higher premiums for people with serious medical problems.
For those who stand to be hurt by these reforms, Thursday left them both fearful about their own medical futures and motivated to act politically.
These are their stories.
Coverage After The Loss Of A Spouse: Marianthe Poulianos, Florida
A self-employed attorney, Poulianos and her two children relied on her husband’s health insurance plan until he died unexpectedly at the age of 41. Her kids were 7 and 10 years old. They all relied on COBRA to get by. When that ended, so did their insurance.
“Obamacare came along at just the right time,” she said. Without it, she would either have had to take a job in a law firm or change careers. But finding a new job with less flexibility would have been tough, since her kids “really needed me.”
Poulianos says her current insurance coverage is reasonably priced with quality care provided. As she watched the House vote, she felt “demonized.”
I’m not sure why I should. I went to school, got married, had kids, worked, employed people, made my children my priority. My husband died and today I feel as if my family is being punished for that. I hear more tragic stories than ours ― people with sick children, pre-existing conditions etc. But I believe that my type of story is part of what’s really devastating and wrong about today as well.
‘I Keep Wondering Why They Want To Kill Me’: Jacqueline Church Simonds, Nevada
In 2010, Simonds began having bizarre, scary health episodes. She was hospitalized for five days but lacked insurance; she and her husband ran their own business, and his pre-existing conditions made him uninsurable. She was able to negotiate down the $42,000 bill, but she still needed her parents’ help to pay the remaining $18,900.
The following year, she became sick again. Her surgeon told her she needed a couple of feet of her colon removed or she would die. When she told the medical staff she simply wasn’t able to pay for such an operation, they informed her about the Affordable Care Act. She signed up for coverage and had the operation. To this day, she remains sick, recently receiving the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. And she suspects she will need more operations.
I keep wondering why they want to kill me.
Why are rich people so much more important than I am that their tax cuts are more important than my health? How can people vote to “improve” healthcare, but make themselves immune from the effects? So, you want to know how I feel about AHCA? I am thoroughly, implacably angry.
I would be out in the streets with a pitchfork and torch, if I felt well enough to leave the house (but I don’t). So I will sit here at my computer and figure out ways to get out the vote.
How Could Christians Do This?: Stacy Jarrell, Florida
“I’m somewhere between totally pissed off and sick to my stomach right now. And I’m scared,” Jarrell told HuffPost shortly after Thursday’s vote. She’s 54 and widowed and petrified about losing her health care. Years before, she said, a doctor misread a mammogram that allowed insurers to label her as having a pre-existing condition. Obamacare came along and gave her solace. She makes under $40,000 a year and gets a subsidy to help purchase insurance on the Obamacare exchange in her state.
As a Christian I can’t understand how these people that claim to follow Christ could support, let alone pass, a law that will kill people. While I believe in a separation of church and state, I also believe that as human beings, moral and ethical people need to take care of those that can’t take care of themselves.
The last thing I’m feeling is resolve. If they think there was a resistance before... they have absolutely no idea how this vote has motivated us.
‘I’m Fucking Terrified’: Bill Petrich, New York
At 21, Petrich was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Treatment was in 2010 and 2011, and Obamacare allowed him to stay on his mother’s private plan. Now 28, he lives in New York and must fend for himself. He has a job as a contractor with no benefits and pays $600 a month for his insurance coverage. It’s a hefty price tag. But it’s a good plan.
Petrich hopes the bill stalls in the Senate. But he’s afraid that Republicans won’t deny the president an accomplishment.
I’m fucking terrified. I can feel the foreboding in my stomach. I’m literally shaking a little bit right now, I was really hoping this wouldn’t pass. I know that, for the rest of my life, I will be seen not as a human being but as a pre-existing condition by private healthcare providers. ...
I already live with a baseline of fear about getting cancer again. Now, it’s terror. Financial ruin at best, death at worst. I’m already imagining a world where I’m starting a crowdfunding campaign to pay for my imagined future treatment.
Medication That Wasn’t Available Without Obamacare: Annie Agle, Utah
Agle, 28, has a rare disease called mastocytosis. She actually receives insurance through her employer, but she’s benefited from the provision under the Affordable Care Act that increased funding for research into diseases. Agle ― who was in treatment Thursday while following the GOP repeal effort in the House ― said that there were several promising medications that weren’t brought to market until the health care law passed because they weren’t considered profitable by the insurance companies.
Under Obamacare, a lot of insurance carriers were forced to present packages and coverage for medications that wouldn’t have even been available to us in the first place. I owe my life now four times over to an immunotherapy drug that didn’t exist before Obamacare and probably wouldn’t have existed without that piece of funding. ...
It’s very disheartening. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that 50 percent of my country doesn’t feel like that I matter or don’t have a right to live. The difference between treatment and no treatment for me is fatality. It’s not a grey area.
Putting Her Children First: Jill Thompsett, New York
In 2004, Thompsett delivered twins at 31 weeks into her pregnancy. Her son and daughter were in the neonatal intensive care unit for six weeks. Her daughter came home with an apnea monitor because of complications with breathing, while her son underwent three surgeries over the next 18 months. Thompsett’s health insurance plan, which she paid for out of pocket, spiked from $600 to $1,200 a month. She had to drop it.
New York state’s child health care plan allowed her to get coverage for her kids. But it wouldn’t be until 2008, when she took a job at the YMCA, that she was able to buy coverage again for herself. When Obamacare became law, the eligibility for Medicaid expanded to higher income levels. Thompsett, earning $23,000 a year and spending nearly every penny on health insurance and child care, qualified.
That the expansion is suddenly endangered enrages her. For now, Thompsett is making doctor’s appointments to take advantage of Obamacare while it’s in place. Down the road, she wonders what will happen to her family if there aren’t protections for pre-existing conditions.
My twins had a very rough start to life, but I am pleased to say they are smart, funny, honor roll 7th graders. ... I now feel like I am living in a nightmare that gets worse with each passing day of this administration. Somebody please wake me.
Chemotherapy During Repeal Vote: Laura Packard, Nevada
Packard, 40, recently moved to Las Vegas and noticed she had a cough. She didn’t have a doctor in the city yet, so she searched around and found someone. After additional trials and visits with specialists, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Self-employed, she gets insurance on the exchanges and had her first round of chemotherapy on Thursday, as Republicans voted to repeal and replace the health care law.
My treatment schedule is eight months of chemotherapy, which will take me right through the end of 2017. If there is still cancer in my lungs, I will need radiation. If the chemotherapy doesn’t take at all, I may need immunotherapy. So there are all kinds of good options in my health, but I may need them in 2018. ...
If Republicans truly believe that Obamacare is some horrible blight on our country, then the thing to do is to work with Democrats to make health insurance better, rather than start with the premise that you need to give the ultra-rich a tax cut and try to figure out how to fudge it for people who need health care to make it the least terrible on them.
‘This Sucks’: Sam Alcabes, California
Alcabes had health care coverage after college through his job in Los Angeles. During that time, he had surgery to repair a herniated disc. When he left his job to attend law school, he was denied health care insurance because of his pre-existing condition. So he entered a high-risk pool run by the state of California, which was expensive and limited in its coverage. After the Affordable Care Act, he got insurance through Kaiser and continues to receive it now through his employer.
I recently gave notice at my job to move on to other things. Now I am concerned that I will lose my ability to obtain insurance from Kaiser or anywhere else for that matter.
I feel like I’ve played the game the right way my whole life. Luck of the draw on having a bad back.
What Happens When You Lose Your Parents’ Coverage?: Kathryn Poe, Ohio
For the past two years, Poe, 20, has been in the hospital on a regular basis, fighting for her life after being diagnosed with three autoimmune conditions. She’s lucky enough to be able to stay on her parents’ health care plan for now but worries what will happen if she turns 26 and the protections for pre-existing conditions currently under the Affordable Care Act are weakened.
It’s incredibly hard to be positive...when you know that the health care legislation that’s passing is just not in your favor. ... At least in my experience in college, people will talk about it and really will have no idea what the essence of the bill means. Oftentimes [people don’t realize] what the real world ramifications are. People are so focused on this Republican dream of Obamacare being repealed that they forget what the real-life implications are for people like me.