If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Melissa McConville says may choose to go without health insurance. But she will make sure her two young boys are covered.
“I’m a very hard-working person, but you can’t afford what you can’t afford,” said McConville, a single mother from Seabrook.
Before signing up for the ACA, McConville paid $1,200 a month for a plan with high deductibles. She was going broke just to keep catastrophic health insurance.
A promise to repeal and replace the ACA, a platform of President Donald Trump’s campaign, looms over the lives of many Granite Staters who rely on it for health insurance. With little clarity from Washington regarding a potential repeal, Trump has vowed “insurance for everybody” in his Obamacare replacement plan, but few specifics have been made public following strong anti-ACA rhetoric from Republicans in Congress.
Although House Speaker Paul Ryan said in January, “We don’t want to pull the rug out from people while we’re replacing this law,” the timeline of a potential repeal and new roll-out is uncertain.
“It’s a huge burden,” McConville said. “From the day (Trump) got elected, I was immediately anxious about it. I just don’t know what I’ll do.” Right now, she doesn’t have a lot of trust in the system.
McConville works as an independent contractor helping children with various limitations and behavioral issues. She is between jobs, having just finished a contract with the Timberlane Regional School District. After a divorce, she is court-mandated to keep her children, ages 6 and 10, covered by health insurance. She currently pays around $350 a month for the three of them.
Rockingham County Republican Chairman Brian Murphy of Rye said the ACA can’t be measured by individual stories, as “it was designed to do something much grander and much bigger.”
“There are still 31 million uninsured Americans today,” Murphy said. “The cost of the ACA that we all bear across the medical, taxpayer and employer landscapes has been pretty significant. If the problem was creating and funding uninsured health care, the solution has not been a successful solution.”
Murphy said while New Hampshire Republicans aren’t fully aware of the intricacies in motion at the federal level, many have identified parts of the plan that could be maintained, such as children staying on family plans through age 26 and dealing with pre-existing conditions.
“Hopefully, in a bipartisan fashion, the lawmakers will take the few pieces that worked, the few that there are, and they’ll repeal and correct this health care riddle,” Murphy said.
In addition, a Republican argument remains that Obamacare has focused on providing insurance to the working class while leaving the middle class behind.
When Exeter resident Margaret Langsenkamp left her full-time job to care for her young daughter, she didn’t expect to receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis shortly thereafter. Her husband’s employer-sponsored insurance wouldn’t cover the difference between an individual and a family, so Langsenkamp signed up for the ACA. Instead of the potential $1,000 a month she would have paid under her husband’s plan, she now pays $411 a month.
Langsenkamp estimated without the ACA, her cancer treatments would have cost $30,000.
“Without health insurance,” she said, “I wouldn’t be able to afford my medications for my thyroid. I think the biggest part of this is that my daughter was eligible for expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Her doctor visits and medications are covered 100 percent. That has been a huge relief for my family.”
Langsenkamp said the implications of repealing the ACA are “far-reaching.” Her family would have gone bankrupt without it.
“It’s not a hand-out,” she said. “It’s not easy to get. My family works hard, we pay the system. I am a well-educated person, I have a master’s degree. I have always worked and I didn’t expect to be a stay-at-home mom but that’s what I’ve done the last few years. The ACA is not just for low-income people. It’s for hard-working families like mine. We just need a little extra help right now.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has partnered with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to put forth the Patient Freedom Care Act of 2017, a bill that would allow states to keep the ACA if they choose. The bill would give states three options: determine their own insurance regulations with federal funding, design an alternative solution without federal assistance or maintain the current program. Their bill is one of the only concrete plans presented as an Obamacare alternative.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, wrote a letter last month to U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asking that Congress give states as much flexibility as possible to design their own health care systems. He did not comment on the future of Obamacare.
State GOP Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester supports letting states decide health care options. She said she understands the uncertainty around the pending ACA repeal, but she argues the same uncertainty existed when the ACA was signed into law in 2010.
“I think as Republicans, just like Democrats, we care about people having affordable health care and increasing access to health care,” Forrester said. “We want to make sure people have that. We do need to make sure that we have a health care system in place that is accessible and affordable for all Americans. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
Forrester said she thinks Trump is going to vigorously advocate to broaden health care access and improve quality.
McConville and Langsenkamp contacted U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to share their experiences with the ACA and how they’re affected by the uncertainty of a replacement.
“It’s highly reckless for President Trump and Republican leadership in Congress to threaten repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan,” Shaheen said Friday. “Many Granite Staters are rightfully concerned about losing their health care coverage. This law isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt that it has made New Hampshire healthier and helped in the fight against the opioid epidemic, which is why I’m committed to working across the aisle to improve the law to expand coverage and affordability.
“I will fight against partisan attempts to take us back to the days of discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and higher numbers of uninsured in New Hampshire,” she continued.
McConville said perhaps a stigma developed around the ACA and those covered by it because it was “draped under a liberal curtain.”
“I’m a hard-working member of society and I need the help and subsidy of the ACA or else I can’t afford health insurance,” she said. “I’ve been very grateful to have the ACA and I can’t imagine if it does get repealed and I lose it.”