Gina Walkington discovered she had an early form of cervical cancer after a Pap smear at an Iowa Planned Parenthood.
Walkington, now a 32-year-old mother of three, was among the patients and health-care officials from around the country who testified Wednesday at a Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee hearing. They said the Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would wreak devastation on their health and their communities.
“If I hadn’t had the Planned Parenthood to go to, if they hadn’t found the precancerous cells, I may not have been a mother today,” Walkington said. “Worse than that, I may not be alive.”
Senate Democrats organized the panel to lift the voices of insured people who stand to lose health care under a GOP repeal of the ACA, or Obamacare. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said “Trumpcare” packs a “triple whammy for families.”
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“Higher costs, less health care, all to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” said Stabenow, who chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. “It’s so important that we remain focused on one of the most important issues to all of us … which is the ability to see a doctor, to take our child to the doctor, and have affordable medical care when we need it.”
Those who testified Wednesday called Obamacare a lifesaver. Carol Fisher Hardaway, a 63-year-old teacher with multiple sclerosis, said she had been uninsurable for much of her life. Denied coverage by a high-risk insurance pool in Texas, Hardaway finally gained insurance under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion after moving to Maryland.
“Every insurer I called laughed at me,” Hardaway said, describing her attempts to obtain coverage before Obamacare. “Medicaid expansion is my life line.”
The House-passed American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, rolls back Medicaid expansion, turns Medicaid into a block grant program to states, and allows states to strip away protections for people with pre-existing conditions—meaning insurance companies can charge them more. The cost of a pregnancy, considered a pre-existing condition, would rise 425 percent under the GOP plan, according to one estimate.
Trumpcare also brings back lifetime limits on insurance coverage, which are devastating to those with chronic health conditions.
Cyndi Johnson, whose daughter was born with Down syndrome, said mounting health-care costs prior to Obamacare had pushed her family near the lifetime cap—the point at which insurance will stop paying medical bills. Johnson now worries about losing coverage under the GOP legislation.
The bill House Republicans passed bars those on Medicaid from using their insurance at Planned Parenthood for one year, even though Planned Parenthood serves more people in need of contraceptive services than federally qualified health centers. “Defunding” Planned Parenthood is expected to result in thousands of unintended pregnancies that will be paid for by Medicaid, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.
Speaking to Rewire before the hearing, Walkington said she lives in a rural part of Kenosha County in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, where there are two Planned Parenthood facilities, and two federally funded health centers.
Ryan has suggested patients barred from going to Planned Parenthood can simply go elsewhere, even though an analysis conducted in his state found redirecting patients to community clinics would create a severe health-care shortage. Forty-two percent of women in Ryan’s district live in Racine and Walworth counties, where there are two Planned Parenthood health centers, but no community health centers offering reproductive care, according to Planned Parenthood.
Walkington said her neighbors drive long distances for health care, and community clinics are “already overwhelmed.” She said now is the time to “be brave” and fight for high-quality health care for all, including Planned Parenthood.
“Planned Parenthood preventative care saved my life,” she said.