WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wielding the personal stories of people from across Maine who have been helped by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), some in lifesaving ways, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today took to the Senate floor to defend the landmark health care law and urge his colleagues to discuss meaningful improvements before trying to fast-tracking its repeal.
In his remarks, Senator King shared with his colleagues in the Senate the stories of six Mainers – from Smithfield, Hampden, Freeport, Ellsworth, North Waterboro, and Poland – whom the Affordable Care Act has helped and continues to help today. For some, the ACA has saved their life or the life of a loved one, while for others, the law has helped them to obtain health insurance despite a pre-existing condition, or has freed them to pursue their dream of opening a small business, or stay on their parents’ insurance as they look for work.
“I understand the debate that has surrounded this. I understand the emotion. I understand the pressure that people feel in order to maintain a campaign promise or to meet promises made over the last several years. But we are not talking about maybe what will happen. We are talking about real cases, real people. I’m talking about real people in Maine – in small towns and cities. I’m talking about rural hospitals that are on the verge of being rendered financially incapacitated because, if this law is repealed, it’ll take away a significant part of their support. I’m talking about seniors having to pay more for drugs. But mostly, I’m talking about people’s lives,” Senator King said.
“We have an opportunity to rise above politics here. This really shouldn't be politics or a policy or something that divides us. There's nobody in this body who wants to see people suffer – who wants to unnecessarily put people through the pressure of both health problems and financial problems. We ought to be able to find a solution,” Senator King continued. “[…] But, in the meantime, let's remember those people who are counting on us for their very lives. That's a commitment I believe we can and should meet.”
Senator King opposes the repeal of the ACA, which would strip health care away from tens of millions of Americans, including more than 75,000 in Maine. Last week, he cosponsored an amendment that would stop efforts to dismantle the law, and he joined with several of his centrist colleagues in urging Senate leadership to discuss improvements to the law before rushing to fast-track a repeal of it. Today, he offered five amendments to legislation currently under consideration by the Senate that would preserve critical facets of the ACA and that would protect health insurance and vital programs to serve people across Maine.
In addition to today’s remarks, Senator King also spoke on the Senate floor last night to share his personal story of how having health insurance saved his life. In his remarks, Senator King emphasized how having health insurance can mean the difference between life and death, as it did for him when he was a young Senate staffer forty-three years ago.
The stories Senator King referenced on the Senate floor are available below in greater detail:
Whitney, from Smithfield, who, thanks to the ACA, was able to remain on her parents’ health care policy as she tried to find work after graduating from the University of Maine in 2013:
“Thanks to the ACA, I was able to stay on my family health insurance plan through unemployment. I did finally get employed in my field, but permanent, year-round jobs with benefits are the equivalent of winning the lottery. Many of us work seasonal jobs, building trails on the Appalachian Trail, rescuing lost hikers, managing volunteers, and running programs for veterans to reconnect with Maine’s woods. We do good work in this state. Before the ACA we worked dangerous outdoor jobs that only provided minimum worker’s comp. […] Those of us who work in Maine’s woods protecting wildlife, building hiking trails, leading hikes for tourists, and teaching children about trees and how to stay safe when camping went to sleep every night praying that if there was an accident it happened during work hours. We fell through the cracks, invisible. But with the ACA and the tax credit, I could afford a silver plan, I could get dental for my teeth, could go to the doctor again, get flu shots and get my joints looked at.”
Ryan, from Hampden, who, along with his wife, was able to pursue a dream of opening a successful small business because the ACA allowed them to maintain health coverage:
“My wife and I own Wild Cow Creamery, a handcrafted, all natural ice cream business that we started in 2013 after my wife’s job as a high school biology teacher was cut. We make all of our ice cream offerings ourselves, from scratch, using local Maine ingredients where possible. We are very humble, very caring, and extremely hard working. After three summers of serving ice cream from a small converted trailer on the Bangor Waterfront, we were finally able to realize our dream of opening a brick and mortar location in downtown Belfast this past summer. As part of this big step we also hired our first team of employees. […]
“Affordable healthcare is a major roadblock to those calculating whether they can take the leap to become self-employed. As we prepare for next year’s ice cream season, I am about to leave my benefit-providing job in order to commit to making the volume of ice cream we need. This is a scary and questionable decision given our financial situation and the fact that we are raising our two small children of four and seven years old. The first comment I hear from everyone who finds out I am leaving my job is, ‘Are you sure? What are you going to do about health insurance??’ […]
“Anybody who has raised kids or started their own business from scratch can relate to the immense amount of time, energy, and hard work required for either one of these activities, let alone the amount needed to do both at once. My wife and I make many hard decisions every day regarding our family and our business. It would be very sad if one of those decisions had to be whether we could afford health care coverage for our children. If the ACA subsidies disappear over night, our decision will have to be that we cannot afford health care at this time. It makes my stomach fall through the floor to think of taking the gamble that my wife or our children could get cancer during a period of no coverage and we will be unable to treat ourselves.”
Elizabeth, from Freeport, who cites the ACA as having saved her husband’s life and as having allowed her the freedom to pursue her own design business:
“I am a Maine woman in my late 30s, who works 2 part-time jobs and also run my own design business. The ACA has allowed me career freedom to be an entrepreneur without sacrificing my health or the health of my husband. I lost my health insurance when I got laid off in 2012 from my full-time advertising job. At the time my husband ran his own landscaping business in Freeport and we were able to get on the Maine ‘Dirigo’ insurance. As you know, ‘Dirigo’ ended when the ACA started so we were transferred over to that insurance. And without it, I don't think my husband would be alive today. Because we were on Maine Community Health Options insurance that had an affordable deductible, after not feeling well for a while my husband went to the doctor and had a CT scan of his lungs done. It turned out he had a very rare form of an illness, even though he was only 38 at the time. Had we not had this insurance and such an affordable premium and deductible, he would have never gotten that CT scan done. This insurance saved his life and covered every expense we've had over the last 2 years with multiple stays at MidCoast Hospital and Maine Med, 2 surgeries, pick-lines, medications, therapies, the list goes on. There is no cure for what he has but he's doing better now, thanks to the ACA.”
Spencer, from Ellsworth, whose mother died from cancer as a result of not being able to afford health insurance and who, along with his siblings, is now able to afford the preventive treatment necessary to see that he remains healthy thanks to the ACA:
“My sisters and I watched my mom die. We were physically in the room when it happened. We cried for probably a half an hour straight. The anniversary of her death just passed. It's never easy to remember. This was a few years ago. She was in the hospital for pneumonia and complications from COPD. She was in incredible debt. She was an accountant for a small business for a decade, and when that business shuttered in the recession, she had to pay for private insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, most of her illnesses were considered pre-existing conditions. She survived cancer three times–breast cancer twice and skin cancer once–but had to pay exorbitant monthly premiums just to have to pay most of her treatment out of pocket. […]
“My father was just treated for colo-rectal cancer. He can afford the treatment because cancer is no longer considered a pre-existing condition. That's four instances of cancer just between my parents. One of my grandparents died from cancer. Cancer is a very high risk for my sisters and I'm a 31-year-old man, and I do monthly cancer checks for breast, skin, and testicular cancer. I take two trips a year to a dermatologist to check for skin cancer. Five of the conditions that insurance companies refused to cover as ‘pre-existing conditions’ run in my family. I work full time. My sister works full time. My eldest sister is a stay-at-home mom running a houseful of kids. We are maybe not thriving, but we are financially solid. None of us can afford to pay for medical treatment the way my mother had to. Without the ACA and its protections, even our screening costs would eat away at our financial stability. […]
“I don't care about the ACA because of some theory or ideology. I watched my mom die, sooner than she needed to, because she couldn't afford to get preventative care early enough. I watched my mom die because market solutions refused to solve her problems. An open insurance market actively refused to compete to cover my mom. The insurance market before the ACA is one of a number of factors that led to my mom's death. This is a real, physical, immediate memory for me whenever someone talks about healthcare, and it always comes to mind when people talk about it in vague terms and market forces. I am crying even as I write this, and it has been years. I am begging you, as a son who watched his mom, who was younger than you, die in a hospital because she couldn't afford the care she needed, please protect the Affordable Care Act.”
Jon, from North Waterboro, who has an incurable form of bone cancer and who, thanks to the ACA, is able to afford health insurance to cover his treatment:
“It is imperative that a government of, by and for the people, ensure affordable health care for all Americans, especially those of us who need it the most. I have an incurable, generally non-lethal form of bone cancer and have been under treatment for over 12 years. The multiple surgeries, MRI’s, chemo and other treatments have been very expensive. I need to be very careful to ensure that this condition is not classified as a disqualifying ‘pre-existing’ condition. I estimate the treatments have exceeded $250,000 over those 12 years. I cannot afford to pay for on-going treatment without Insurance. I am very pleased that the current ACA does not allow for ‘pre-existing disqualification’ and I would hate to see that removed. Having this condition is naturally, stressful, debilitating and undesired. I do not want or need the added stress of having to worry about legal denials of coverage. Additionally I have two boys, aged 23 and 26 both of whom have benefited from remaining on our family insurance policy. That is a great policy and my boys are healthier as a result.”
Donald, from Poland, who, thanks to the ACA, is able to afford health insurance for him and his wife, who is no longer able to work full time and who recently had back surgery and has arthritis:
“I would like to make you aware of the anxiety in our household. Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan have all threatened to blow up the affordable care act. My wife is sixty-three years old she is no longer able to work full time. She has had major back surgery and has arthritis in her neck. Because of these health issues she had to reduce her work hours. Consequently, her employer dropped her health care coverage. We were fortunate to obtain coverage for her through the Affordable Care Act. It is expensive and is not the best coverage, but it is good enough for us to know that a major health issue will not bankrupt us. We are appealing to you as our representative to insure that a reasonable replacement will be put in place when the Affordable Care Act is ended. Better yet, improve it, don’t destroy it.
“As for me, I am 66 and retired due to health reasons. I am covered by Medicare but my wife will not be eligible for two more years. We have worked hard all our lives and our bodies are worn out. Don’t let people like us be left vulnerable to major medical expenses and bankruptcy because of partisanship.”
In addition to the stories he shared on the Senate floor, Senator King has received several others, including the following two:
Michelle, from Portland, who cites the ACA as allowing her 27-year old daughter to afford health coverage:
“I am very concerned about the certain prospect that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed by Congress and its replacement will not meet the needs of millions of people now covered by Affordable Care Act who rely on the monthly subsidy in order to afford a premium for anything other than catastrophic coverage. People who have had comprehensive health coverage for years now will be faced with the choice of paying monthly premiums for inadequate coverage or going without coverage. […]
“My daughter, age 27, is working 6 days a week for less than $13/hour, doing hard physical work on a farm. Her monthly net pay is $2760. That covers housing (rent and utilities for a shared apartment), $830; car (lease, gas, insurance), $330; student loans, $500; and groceries, household and personal care ($25/day), $750; leaving only $350/month for health insurance premiums and copays for a plan with a $1000 deductible. Although she takes care of herself and is relatively healthy, in the next few years she will need foot surgery and heart surgery, and she has a fairly high risk of injury given the type of work she does. Without a monthly subsidy, her health insurance premiums would be far beyond her ability to pay and she would be forced to drop coverage.”
Cindy, from Caribou, whose employees are able to afford health insurance because of the ACA:
“I hope you will consider not repealing the Affordable Care Act. I have 4 employees covered by the Affordable Care Act and they will not be able to afford health coverage without some kind of replacement they can afford.”