Many lost health insurance in NC in recent months, as the US Supreme Court hears a case Tuesday that could upend the way the Affordable Care Act works.
This was supposed to be the year when Gabby and Taylor Halley were moving ahead.
Gabby Halley gave birth to the couple’s second child, a boy, in December, joining their 2-year-old daughter. The family of four moved to a new Chapel Hill rental home close to Halley’s grandmother, whom Halley helps care for on a daily basis. Husband Taylor Halley had a salary job as a sous chef at an upscale Chapel Hill restaurant, a longtime professional goal of his.
But then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it all came tumbling down.
Taylor’s restaurant closed, and the family went from March to June without income. The family was in a vulnerable spot. The pandemic hit shortly after the birth of a new baby. And what was once essential became optional as they tried to figure out how to pay for food, diapers, rent and more. One of those essentials-turned-luxuries was the Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan the family had gotten through the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. They canceled it in March and have gone without as the public health crisis continues.
“We can’t afford health insurance,” Halley said. “It’s not fair for my kids to lose health insurance.”
The family is far from alone. A report released this summer estimated one in five North Carolina adults is now without health insurance since the pandemic hit the economy.
And now, there are concerns that the US Supreme Court could opt to do away all together with the ACA, often known as Obamacare. Arguments were held Tuesday before the nation’s highest court, which is scheduled to make a decision in the coming months.
Republicans in the nation have made overturning the ACA a top goal of theirs. But, during the Supreme Court arguments Tuesday, most of the justices appeared inclined to keep the sweeping health care law intact while addressing the narrower set of issues regarding the individual mandate for health insurance policies in front of them.
But the talk of the ACA being potentially overturned has added to the stress of the Halley family in Chapel Hill, who are trying to keep their heads above water financially. Taylor Halley is back at his salaried job again, but they’re having to make what amounts to extra rent payments to catch up on the months where they couldn’t afford to pay their landlord. That’s kept health insurance out of reach for the foreseeable future.
Their 2-year-old daughter Logan and 11-month-old son Charlie are caught up on their vaccinations while the family applies for Medicaid coverage for the children. [Medicaid is the safety net health care program for lower-income people, including children and those with disabilities. North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature has resisted expanding the program to hundreds of thousands of low-income, able-bodied adults in NC, an expansion that would be mostly paid for by the federal government under the ACA. NC is one of 12 states in the country to turn down the federal funds.]
Gabby Halley hopes the children would be approved soon, in time for baby Charlie’s next round of vaccines at his one-year check-up.
“It scares me because what happens if my kids don’t get approved for Medicaid and there’s no Obamacare?” Halley said. “What am I going to do? There’s no plan, there’s no action.”
Going Without Health Care in a Pandemic
Halley hasn’t seen a doctor since shortly after giving birth. That’s meant no check-up to see how she recovered from pregnancy, or to request birth control.
“You need to afford those things and I can’t afford a doctor’s appointment just to see if, ‘Hey, is mom doing all right?’’’ Halley said.
The idea that everyone can get a job with health care benefits just isn’t true, Halley said, especially in a pandemic. Many small businesses, like the restaurant her husband currently works for, are small enough that they aren’t required to offer health insurance, And even if health insurance is offered, it’s not always within reach for a family like hers, as was the case at Taylor Halley’s last job. The employee portion of the health insurance was still too expensive for them.
“That’s half of your paycheck,” Gabby Halley said. “You still got to pay your rent and your groceries.”
Her hope is that there will be help for families like hers on the horizon with Joe Biden now the president-elect, whom she voted for, whether with health insurance or food until they really are back on their feet. Until then, they’re trying to stay as safe as possible from COVID-19 and keep hoping that some more help is out there for them.
“It’s hard accepting this is reality, but you have to keep trucking along and stay in your bubble, we need to stay in our little bubble,” she said, to stay safe from COVID-19. “Just keep safe, and just accept that we’re going to move forward and hopefully things will change.”