WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy and one of the co-authors of the Affordable Care Act, and Cory Booker, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a virtual roundtable today with New Jersey constituents who stand to lose their health coverage if the ACA is overturned. They discussed what’s at stake for them as the Senate considers a Supreme Court nominee just weeks before the high court is to hear a Trump Administration challenge to the health law on Nov. 10.
“Look, Republicans have been gunning for the ACA for a decade now. They tried to repeal it and they failed. Now they’re hoping the Supreme Court will do their dirty work because they still have no plan… It’s outrageous that the Trump Administration is engaged in this crusade against the ACA in the midst of a global pandemic. As COVID-19 cases nationwide surpass eight million, every single person who was infected now potentially has a new pre-existing condition,” said Sen. Menendez. “Thank you all very much for sharing your stories. Each of you speak to the real, palpable fear shared by so many Americans that the Supreme Court could strike down the Affordable Care Act and take your health coverage away.”
“As Senate Republicans continue to rush through this illegitimate process, millions of Americans stand to lose their health care in the middle of a deadly pandemic, including the 150 million Americans with pre-existing conditions covered under the ACA,” said Sen. Booker. “For millions of Americans, a future without the ACA looks like being forced to sell your house if you want to afford your health care, it looks like not having access to a doctor when you’re sick, it looks like having to choose between paying for groceries and paying for medicine. As we face the worst public health crisis in our lifetimes, it would be cruel and reckless to force this many Americans – including many New Jerseyans – to potentially face losing their health care.”
The senators heard directly from New Jerseyans facing difficult health challenges who stressed how their lives and financial securities are at risk if protections afforded by the ACA are struck down:
Stephanie Vigario of Newark is a 31-year-old pharmacy technician and frontline essential worker who contracted COVID-19 and is still recovering after more than two months in the hospital. “I was on a ventilator for 35 days. I spent a total of 47 days in the hospital, followed by 18 days in an acute rehabilitation hospital. On June 19th, I was finally reunited with my husband, who also had been sick with Covid-19,” Vigario said. “The major concern my family and I have with regards to the future of our health and health care insurance is with Covid-19 being considered a pre-existing condition… [And] if a lifetime maximum aggregate limit were to be put on claims paid by the healthcare insurance company, with my extended hospital stay, our current insurance provider has mailed us notices for claims in excess of $800,000, I am sure I would have exceeded my limit.”
Daria Caldwell of Flemington recently lost her job during the pandemic at the same time she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable, but incurable blood cancer. “Without the ACA to use as gap insurance in between, I will have no medical or prescription coverage for nearly a year and a half before I can get Medicare. Even if some company does offer to insure me, with the pre-existing conditions, it would be cost prohibitive and I will be subject to lifetime caps,” Caldwell said. “Dissolving the ACA would cost me my life. That sounds dramatic because it is. I don’t want to die but I feel like a price tag has been put on my head and the constant threat is beyond anything I thought I would ever have to endure. It’s nearly as devastating as the diagnosis itself.”
Scott Chesney of Verona is a married father of two who was paralyzed from the waist down at 15 and faces a lifetime of expensive medical needs. He is also an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, speaking up for others dealing with paralysis and serious disabilities. “I was 15 when I woke up one day, paralyzed, and 35 years later, I sit in this wheelchair,” Chesney said. “Aging with a disability—a pre-existing condition—is tough. Your body breaks down. Thankfully, my wife has health insurance because if I don’t get the medications and therapy I need, I don’t live. I fear for my brothers and sisters with disabilities who are sitting at home in pain and don’t know how they would be able to pay for that next medical treatment. We can’t allow this to happen. We need health care.”
Angie Tyson Dixon of Camden is suffers from epilepsy and relies on the ACA marketplace for her health care and prescription drug coverage so she can afford to raise her children. “Having healthcare insurance through the ACA means life or death for me,” Tyson Dixon said. “I take medication for my epilepsy three times a day. Without it, I would suffer up to 15 seizures each day. I lost my mother because she did not have the insurance she needed, and we can’t go back to a time without it.”
Morgan Thompson of Bethlehem Twp. is in her 30s and in long term recovery from an opioid addiction. She runs Prevention Links, in Elizabeth, that helps others struggling with addiction, many of whom rely on behavioral and mental health coverage, protected as essential benefits under the ACA, and Medicaid expansion to get the treatment they need. “It’s not a matter of luck, it’s a matter of the fact that I had treatment and resources available to me that enabled my recovery to be possible,” Thompson said. “Without those lifesaving supports and services, I more likely than not would have been one of the 70,000 Americans whose life is lost to overdose each year.”
Gloria Nieves of Newark works part-time and does not qualify for employer-based health insurance. She has asthma and diabetes and gets her coverage through the ACA marketplace. “It worries me that if we don’t have the Affordable Care Act, what will we do?” Nieves said. “I work as a community doula in the Sister to Sister Community Doulas of Essex County and I hear a lot of the women that I help about their bills, and without the Affordable Care Act they wouldn’t be able to afford prenatal and labor costs. That’s worrisome because if the woman can’t get prenatal care, we’re back to square one. It just ties all together, without the Affordable Care Act, we would be lost.”
Judy and Abe Rosenstein of Edison are both on Medicare, but have high prescription drug costs for medications to treat diabetes and a kidney transplant, respectfully. However, they can only afford them in part because the ACA closed the so-called Medicare Part D “donut hole,” which had left many seniors choosing between their lifesaving medications and paying for rent or food. “The drugs that we have to take to maintain our health can be costly,” said Judy Rosenstein. “With the coverage, it’s $100 a month [just for one medication]. The ACA protects consumers from insurance companies driving up prices, shenanigans… We feel we need to speak out for those without a voice. Thank you so much, senators, for all that you do for our state. We’re so grateful for all your hard work and speaking out for the underdog—those without the big bank accounts—and doing what’s necessary.”
Nationwide, the ACA brought health coverage to over 20 million Americans who did not have it before, including over 750,000 New Jerseyans and protected 135 million with pre-existing conditions—3.8 million in New Jersey.
If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, it would shift the nation’s highest court to a 6-3 conservative majority, putting in jeopardy the Affordable Care Act, which has withstood several legal challenges by 5-4 majorities with justices split along largely along ideological lines.