Tracey Everett sat in U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko’s Albany office Sunday morning and held up a clear plastic bag containing about a dozen different types of prescription drugs.
The pills inside shook as she spoke about how much each one costs, and how without the Affordable Care Act, she’d be unable to afford the medication in front of her.
“I’m so scared that they’re going to take this back because where does that leave me? I have children to take care of. I’m not a person that’s lazy, I get up and go to work every day,” said Everett, a single mother from Troy who suffers from diabetes and has dealt with seizures.
Everett sat in a circle, surrounded by eight other 20th Congressional District constituents who spoke about how the Affordable Care Act affected their lives. The panel, Tonko said, helped put faces to the discussion surrounding the future of the law, and provided him with anecdotal evidence to present on the floor of the House of Representatives.
One woman was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, lost her job a short time later, but could afford treatment because of the ACA. One man dealt with frequent anxiety and panic attacks, but could now seek counseling or go to the emergency room without facing exorbitant costs.
A few were nearly moved to tears reflecting on how coverage had improved their life or the lives of their family. They also expressed concern over the looming possibility that the law, commonly known as Obamacare, might be repealed.
Tonko, D-Amsterdam, hosted the event just days after the House of Representatives approved a budget blueprint that would allow Republicans to eliminate significant provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Other lawmakers held similar events across the country Sunday in an effort to gather feedback on the ACA. Some citizens planned rallies in support of the law.
Republicans have argued since the law was passed that it's led to increasing costs and decreasing choices in health insurance. They’ve vowed to “repeal and replace,” though certain leaders, including President-Elect Donald Trump, have said they’d like to retain parts of the ACA, such as the aspect relating tocoverage of pre-existing conditions.
Everett and several others in the room said they’d likely be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions if not for the ACA.
Maxine Brisport, of Schenectady became emotional as she told the panel about one of her two adult children who, at age 12, was diagnosed with a serious condition. He had monthly medical appointments and took multiple medications, and Brisport worried he’d be denied coverage due to his pre-existing condition.
“We celebrated when [the ACA] was passed,” she said, noting that the law also allows him to remain on his parents’ insurance until he’s 26.
Robert LeVine from Guilderland suffers from diabetes and is self-employed. He returned from China a few years ago after living there for a decade, and managed to buy insurance through the ACA. Without it, he said, he’d be trying to cover his costs out of pocket.
“It’s about families,” he said of the law. “And that’s what I think the president-elect is forgetting sometimes.”
He took issue with lawmakers who have long talked about repealing and replacing the law, particularly those who are willing to gut the legislation without having an alternative ready to go.
“It really should be examine carefully and reform,” LeVine said.
If Congress successfully repeals the law, roughly 2.7 million residents in New York state would potentially lose coverage, and the estimated state budget impact would be about $3.7 billion, according to a report released Jan. 4 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
On Sunday, Tonko admitted the legislation has flaws he’d like to see addressed, but likened it to Social Security and Medicare in saying major federal programs typically require adjustment over time.
“It’s not about repeal, it’s about making things better,” Tonko said. “There’s no mistaking we have to continue to bend that cost curve and address efficiencies in the system to improve affordability.”