Around a hundred concerned health care consumers and activists gathered at Colorado’s Capitol Tuesday to oppose GOP efforts on the state and federal level to upend health care.
As the fate of the Affordable Care Act plays out in Washington D.C., Colorado lawmakers are deciding the future of the state’s health insurance marketplace. State Senate Bill 3 would dismantle Connect for Health Colorado, which was set up to implement the ACA.
Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Director Sam Gilchrist, whose family went bankrupt because their insurance didn’t cover preexisting conditions, urged lawmakers to “stop playing politics” with the health care of their constituents. He also emphasized the importance of sharing the stories of those who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act so that Congress can put a face to their repeal vote.
One of those faces belongs to Howard Paul, who told the crowd that he’s terrified of what will happen without his Obamacare.
Paul said after Obamacare passed, he was empowered to leave his job, which he stayed at partially because of the health care benefits he received, to pursue entrepreneurship. He was part of an uptick of people who were able to achieve their dream of starting their own business following the passage of the ACA, which allowed millions of citizens to get insurance through the exchanges rather than employers.
Now, many small business owners like Paul fear they will have to go back to working for large companies and backtrack on the progress they’ve made just so they can get coverage.
Paul was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and said the medications he needs would cost thousands of dollars a month without insurance. He says losing his Obamacare would mean three things: “First, likely, I’m bankrupt. Two, perhaps I’m homeless. And three, ultimately, I’m dead.”
Reyna Ulibarri also said she’s terrified of losing her coverage, and told the crowd that it would have been impossible for her to finish her doctorate degree in Sociology without the ACA.
Ulibarri said she suffers from hypothyroidism and clinical depression, and that her medications cost a third of her teaching income before the ACA, making it difficult to keep herself healthy enough to work and study. Once the ACA passed, she was able to get her health on track, do her job, and make substantial progress on her degree, which took her 13 years to complete, Ulibarri said.
When she was weeks away from finally completing her degree, she said she was in a hit-and-run car accident, from which she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Ulibarri was able to push through the brain fog and finish her degree, but said it would have been impossible without Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
Thanks to Medicaid, Ulibarri said she’s been able to take time off and focus on rehabilitation. Now, as the future of her Medicaid is uncertain, she’s worried she won’t be able to continue restoring her health.
“This isn’t just my story,” Ulibarri said. “It’s the story of millions of Americans who have had this opportunity. We’ve had this chance to get well, and if that gets taken away, we don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Ann Cowie-Bozner, who has a history of heart disease and cancer, is also able to afford coverage because of Obamacare. She said because of her preexisting conditions, she’d likely be completely uninsurable if the ACA is repealed.
“I am sixty years old. I still have a lot to give to society,” Cowie-Bozner said. “With the loss of the ACA and the Colorado health exchange, that probably will not happen.”
Among the crowd of supporters was DawnMarie Anderson, who said in an interview with The Colorado Times Recorder that she supports Obamacare because it allows her daughter to stay on her insurance plan, who she worries couldn’t afford coverage otherwise. She also highlighted the hypocrisy of Republicans who claim to be pro-life denying citizens life-saving coverage.
State Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver), a doctor who has been a fierce health care advocate, called GOP plans to scrap the health insurance of millions with no real replacement plan dangerous and reckless.
“Our nation’s health is not a red or a blue issue,” Aguilar said. “It’s an American issue.”
An estimated 588,000 Coloradans would lose coverage if the ACA is repealed, and 175,000 Coloradans get insurance through Connect for Health Colorado, which saw record enrollment in January.
Senate Bill 3 passed the Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee yesterday, but is likely to fail as it moves to the Democratic-controlled House.
Gilchrist encouraged protesters to continue making their voices heard by calling and emailing their elected officials and attending rallies.
In addition the multitude of health care rallies popping up in Denver over the past few weeks, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) office has been bombarded with calls, many of which urge him against repealing the ACA.
Last week he questioned the legitimacy of callers and protesters by suggesting they are being paid and aren’t from Colorado. Constituents who continue to gather outside his Denver office are now holding up IDs to prove they’re Colorado residents.