On the anniversary of John McCain's thumbs down on Affordable Care Act repeal, lawmakers warn the health care law is still in peril. John McCain
On the anniversary of John McCain's thumbs down on Affordable Care Act repeal, lawmakers warn the health care law is still in peril.

As US Supreme Court considers tossing the law, backers say coronavirus has made the ACA more important than ever. 

Three years ago, the late John McCain gave his historic “thumbs down” to repealing a portion of the Affordable Care Act.

On the anniversary of that vote, state and federal lawmakers gathered in a virtual town hall Wednesday with healthcare advocates to call for the ACA’s preservation and Medicaid expansion.   

The meet included Congressman G.K. Butterfield and state Rep. Carla Cunningham, both Democrats, with DonnaMarie Woodson, a NC cancer survivor and healthcare advocate.

“I’d always been healthy all my life,” Woodson said Wednesday. “It just goes to show when you don’t have access to affordable quality health care, you die. I would be literally dead. (Quality health care) was my lifeline, and it’s not cheap paying for that. I can’t even fathom why this administration wants to pull health care in the middle of a pandemic.”

RELATED: ‘There Is No Safety Net’: New Report Says 1 in 5 North Carolinians Now Without Health Insurance During Coronavirus Pandemic

President Trump’s administration has asked the US Supreme Court to strike down the ACA this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

Woodson, who was diagnosed with both colon and breast cancers, depended on the ACA to cover treatment after her family lost their coverage due to job loss.

The law was passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2010. Among its key provisions, the law expanded Medicaid benefits, created a marketplace for affordable health care plans, banned insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, and required all Americans to have health insurance.

The law has been a frequent target for Republican lawmakers since its passage, and some conservative-led states such as NC have opted out of Medicaid expansion for low-income residents.  

“The ACA is the backbone of our country’s health care system, and we need to fight to keep that in place,” Butterfield said. “And we also need to address states like North Carolina that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. So many North Carolinians are uninsured because of their refusal to do that.”

Wednesday’s virtual town hall was hosted by the healthcare advocacy organizations Piedmont Rising and Protect our Care NC.

The panelists argued that with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more critical than ever to not only protect ACA coverage, but also to expand Medicaid to assist those who’ve lost jobs in recent months.

“Widespread job losses have cost many North Carolinians their access to affordable health care,” said Cunningham. “In fact, 20% of North Carolina citizens lost their health care as they lost their jobs due to COVID-19.”

Cunningham said rural hospitals also have suffered, with many being forced to halt non-essential services, losing vital revenue critical to maintaining operations.

“We’ve had about eight hospitals in rural areas close,” said Cunningham. “States that expanded Medicaid did not close any hospitals.”

Cunningham said the state legislature voted in July to pass Medicaid transformation, moving from a fee-for-service model to managed care with the Department of Health and Human Services setting the rate. That legislation goes into effect July 1, 2021.

The discussion also addressed threats to the ACA, such as the pending Supreme Court case. Trump officials argued that the law became unconstitutional in 2017 when Congress eliminated the penalty for not having coverage.

Woodson urged attendees to appeal to their representatives to protect the ACA and make its coverage available to more people, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“We need health care expansion, Medicaid expansion—it would save millions of people’s lives,” said Woodson. “We understand our most vulnerable communities are at risk, and health care is a right—it shouldn’t be a privilege. Our stories make a difference, and they spotlight why it’s vital that everyone have access to affordable, quality health care.”