Not long after Kerry Orr of Wilmington signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
The yoga instructor and massage therapist said without the insurance, she wouldn’t be able to afford her extensive treatments. Orr said prior to the ACA, purchasing her own insurance was too expensive, so she avoided visiting the doctor and maintained a healthy lifestyle.
“I didn’t realize what it all it entailed until after I got cured of cancer, but it enabled me to buy health insurance for the first time ever as an adult,” she said. “It was very affordable, and I almost immediately needed to use it—so it was a life saver.”
On Monday, she was one of several panelists discussing the importance of the program known as Obamacare during a forum at Christiana Care Health System’s Wilmington Hospital.
Democratic U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper hosted the forum in response to President Donald Trump and Republican Congress members’ vow to repeal the ACA. Panelists also included healthcare professionals in the state and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware.
They say the program could be repealed by March, and Republicans don’t have a replacement on the table. An estimated 18 million Americans would lost their insurance.
“To repeal the Affordable Care Act without a solid replacement plan is congressional malpractice and would hurt people across the country,” Coons said.
“We’d go back to much of the dysfunctional healthcare and insurance system we had before the ACA—where you could be denied coverage with a pre-existing condition, where women could be discriminated against in the provision of healthcare, where children wouldn’t stay on their parents’ plan until age 26.”
Janice E. Nevin, the president and CEO of Christiana Care, said patients with conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure who had not accessed care for several years now have insurance and are accessing care. She said the ACA also has cut down on emergency room visits and hospitalization.
“I’m deeply concerned if we repeal without replacement they will simply lose their coverage and it will impact their ability to get the care they need,” Nevin said. “The ACA is very complex and if it’s repealed without replacement it has the potential to unravel the entire health system. It will impact not just those getting coverage through expanded Medicaid or the exchanges, but it will impact all of us.”
While many Americans have benefitted from the ACA, others have faced increased and unaffordable premiums and deductibles, inconsistencies in pricing and inefficiencies in the signing up and appeals process. Americans also are penalized on their taxes if they decide not to take any insurance.
Coons says Democrats were willing to make improvements to the act, but Republicans wouldn’t work with them.
“Solving America’s health insurance challenges and solving the cost increases we’ve seen in healthcare across this country is a complicated thorny issue,” he said. “It is not the sort of thing to rush through in a few weeks in order to meet a campaign promise.”
The deadline to sign up for health insurance through the government marketplace is Tuesday at midnight. Locally, application numbers aren’t expected to drop, despite the program being in limbo.
Orr said she currently uses the Medicaid expansion because she lost her ability to work while in treatment. She hopes she will still qualify for Medicaid after repeal, but when she starts work again she will no longer have affordable insurance, unless an alternative plan is passed by Congress.
“I never would have gotten diagnosed or treated if it weren’t for the Affordable Care Act, so it really did save my life,” Orr said. “I really want to put a face to the patients. I just wanted to hopefully inspire some compassion in people who might be opposed.”