Jackson Lee

Jackson Lee urges supporters of Obamacare to speak out

Rony Escobar set four medication bottles and a syringe on the table where he was preparing to testify Saturday about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee rose from her chair and walked closer to take a look.

“These are daily?” she asked, picking up two of the drugs.

“Yes,” the 23-year-old Houstonian with diabetes and other health conditions said. “I have to take seven pills every day and I have to inject myself four times.”

Escobar was among several greater Houston residents who shared their personal experiences with health care access, as well as their opinions on the promised repeal of the health reform law by Republican lawmakers who now have majorities in both houses of Congress.

Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, hosted a listening session at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston as part of the national push-back by ACA supporters.

‘It’s not political’

Enacted in 2010, the Affordable Care Act was approved by a Congress with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The health reform plan known as “Obamacare” became the signature legislation and namesake law of President Barack Obama and is considered a core piece of his legacy. The ACA provided a way for uninsured Americans to access individual private health coverage without rejection for pre-existing conditions. The law also requires certain routine medical exams to be covered without co-payments.

Jackson Lee said striking down the law would unravel the insurance market and put people’s lives at risk by potentially causing those with pre-existing conditions to be ineligible for coverage, eliminating access to care for millions and denying reimbursements to hospitals for uncompensated care.

“This is a personal matter for me,” she said. ” I am a cancer survivor. And for anyone that has had catastrophic illness, it is no joke and it’s not political.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one million Texans have gained coverage through the ACA individual insurance marketplace since 2010 and the state’s uninsured rate has fallen 28 percent to unprecedented lows.

Survey: Many favor repeal

GOP leaders have vowed to undo the law, but have not revealed a replacement plan. According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 49 percent of those polled said that Congress should repeal the law and 20 percent of respondents supported striking down the ACA before lawmakers devise an alternative.

After Escobar signed up for coverage in the insurance marketplace, he said his monthly out-of-pocket costs fell from more than $800 to less than $200.

“It literally saved my life,” he said.

The congresswoman advised those who want the Affordable Care Act to remain in force to make their voices heard with vigorous action that meets or exceeds the efforts of those who tried to stop the law’s approval by Congress and subsequent implementation.

“As vitriolic as the opposition was, we need to be high-spirited,” she said. “But our highness should be in energy – it should be in marches, protests, emails, texts, calls.”

Fears Medicare cuts

Aurora Harris, 28, told the congresswoman that the ACA broke down health barriers for her as a lesbian and has protected access to care for her mother.

“The Affordable Care Act was really a way for us to start narrowing those health disparities,” the Houston resident said.

Cecelia Fontenot of Houston has diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. She said the ACA saved her life after she was laid off from her job and lost her health coverage.

“I have to take medication that is very expensive,” she said. “I made a little bit too much money to go to Harris Health (public hospital system) and not enough to purchase insurance on my own.”

The marketplace, with its subsidies, offered her an affordable option to purchase a health plan. She now is covered by Medicare, but “fears” cuts to that program if the ACA disappears.

Several physicians also testified against an ACA repeal. Others who praised the law during the hearing included representatives of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and the Texas Organizing Project as well as leaders in local chapters of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees known as AFSCME.

This story originally appeared 1/8/2017 in the Houston Chronicle.