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July 20, 2019

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Democratic forum gives voice to fears about health care overhaul

Health Care Hearing

Wade Vandervort

Jeremy Wallace, left, a transgender man, speaks during a health care hearing at UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 3, 2017. At the hearing, Planned Parenthood patients, health care providers, and public health experts offered testimonies about what the ACA (Affordable Care Act) repeal would mean to them.

Health Care Hearing

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-Nev) speaks during a health care hearing at UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 3, 2017. At the hearing, Planned Parenthood patients, health care providers, and public health experts offered testimonies about what the ACA (Affordable Care Act) repeal would mean to them. Launch slideshow »

During a June 3 forum on health care laws, one word was repeated often — fear.

“Fearful is putting it lightly,” said Jeremy Wallace, who volunteers for the local chapter of LGBT advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign. “I have yet to meet someone from the LGBTQ community, specifically the trans community, who isn’t scared about the changes that could come.”

The Health Care Forum at UNLV, organized by Planned Parenthood and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., brought together diverse stakeholders, such as a gynecologist, an HIV outreach coordinator, a sex worker and a cancer patient. The event was aimed at those who feel threatened by what they know and what they don’t know about the proposed replacement of the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act.

“As a woman, I’m tired of people in Washington telling me what I can and can’t do with my health care decisions and my body,” Cortez Masto said.

She and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., took the audience through the logistical measures behind the health care fight (the House passed a version of the Republican-backed American Health Care Act in May, and now the Senate is weighing its options).

“The bill that’s being proposed would do away with the progress that has been made,” Titus said. “It’s bad for everybody but especially bad for women.”

The event focused on giving individuals a chance to speak about their health struggles and concerns.

“The leaders in Washington need to know who you are,” Cortez Masto said. “They need to hear your stories.”

Among the people sharing their views, there wasn’t one who didn’t have a concern about what changes in coverage could come.

Laura Packard woke up a few months ago with what she thought was just a nagging cough. “And then I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer,” she said.

Being self-employed, Packard relies on insurance she obtained through the Affordable Care Act for life-saving treatments (she just finished her third round of chemotherapy). While Republican leadership has stressed that the new health care law would retain provisions for pre-existing conditions, that privilege could be lost if a person’s coverage lapsed. Packard wasn’t sure if she would have the same access to medications and treatments if the system changed.

“I can still be cured despite what stage I’m in,” she said. “Obamacare can cure me if I can keep my health insurance. I hope Obamacare sticks around, and I hope I do too.”

Other stories were specific to Obamacare’s expansion of preventive care and the role played by Planned Parenthood, which could lose all federal funding for at least a year under the proposed law.

KellyLynn Charles talked about being a Planned Parenthood patient for most of her life: seeking birth control when she was 18; confirming pregnancy results with her husband when she was 22 (she was uninsured at the time); and obtaining mammogram referrals.

“And they were there last year when I began experiencing extreme abdominal pain,” she said. “It was there I was diagnosed with ovarian cysts.”

Wallace also talked about Planned Parenthood.

“I am a transgender guy, but I lived and identified as a female until 2008,” said Wallace, who volunteers for the local chapter of the Human Rights Campaign. “I relied on Planned Parenthood. I still rely on it. I still need to get things like pap smears and pelvic exams to keep me healthy so I don’t die of preventable things. It’s extremely difficult and embarrassing to go into a doctor’s office where I’m not welcomed. Planned Parenthood has been accessible for the trans community.”

Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010, Wallace wrestled with changing his gender marker on his health insurance because of potentially being denied.

“I realized that me being who I am and being authentic and living this way, that alone makes me a pre-existing condition,” Wallace said. “I can’t wrap my head around that. Just me living my life and standing up and wanting to be authentic, that is something that could hurt me.”

Reyna Herrera, an HIV outreach coordinator for the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, said the LGBTQ community was less likely to be insured and that the transgender community was less likely to access health care or seek preventive care. Obamacare helped with that. Herrera said the law also opened doors, giving the example of certain states allowing Medicaid funding to cover hormones for gender reassignment.

“One year after the ACA set up a system with the Office for Civil Rights, the rates of insured in the

LGBTQ community went up by 24 percent,” Herrera said.

Overall, Titus said the uninsured rate dropped in Nevada with the health care law.

“Since Obamacare went into effect, more than 400,000 new Nevadans have gotten health insurance that didn’t (have it) before,” she said.

Herrera said the health care law also helped those dealing with HIV.

“Before the ACA was enacted, Ryan White (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act) was the only source for people who were HIV positive and didn’t have insurance,” Herrera said. “As soon as the ACA hit, we worked diligently to get people (with HIV) on it. It allowed extra funding to be available to Ryan White.”

She said the Ryan White program then was able to channel funding toward support services to help with housing, transportation, food vouchers and even education. “To repeal would put a strain back on Ryan White,” Herrera says. “We’ve made progress with the ACA, and to repeal it would be detrimental.”

The issue is far from decided. Discussions in Washington, D.C., around the proposed new law have been lagging. There is no indication of what the next draft might look like, and if it would get the votes needed to pass the Senate.

In this room in Las Vegas, the opposition wasn’t waiting to find out.

Kelley Robinson, the national organizing director with Planned Parenthood Action Fund, ended the night with a call to action.

“When health care is under attack, what do we do?” Robinson asked.

“We stand up and fight back,” the audience responded.

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