I’m a cancer survivor, but I might not survive Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court

If President Donald Trump's nominee is confirmed on the court, the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block — and so is my life.

Laura Packard
Opinion contributor

Losing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an incalculable blow for our country. For millions of other Americans living with cancer or in remission like me, the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett layers terror on top of our grief. I’m a stage 4 cancer survivor, and the Affordable Care Act saved my life. That very law now hangs in the balance, and perhaps our lives do as well. 

President Donald Trump promised in 2015 to nominate judges that would strike down Obamacare. Now he has chosen conservative judge Barrett, who leaves a paper trail of skepticism of the ACA and court cases upholding it. 

Barrett opposed Chief Justice John Roberts’ reasoning in his 2012 ruling upholding the ACA in NFIB v. Sebelius, and praised Justice Antonin Scalia's 2015 dissent in King v. Burwell, which contested the ability of low income families to access tax credits towards their health insurance as a part of the law. 

The entire law itself will come before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10. If confirmed in time, Barrett could participate in oral arguments.

Trump signed executive orders ahead of Barrett’s nomination claiming to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but they are worthless platitudes without the law to back them up. We need more.

A life-changing diagnosis

When I walked into a doctor’s office as a healthy 40-year old with a nagging cough three years ago, I was blindsided by a metastatic cancer diagnosis (Hodgkin’s lymphoma). I began my journey through treatment, while having to fight for my care. 

The day after my first chemotherapy appointment, Republicans in the U.S. House voted to repeal and replace major parts the Affordable Care Act and celebrated on the White House lawn. They rejoiced in their work to destroy the insurance that was keeping me alive, and, I hoped, would save my life. 

Much of Republican animosity stems from how the Affordable Care Act is structured: The rich would likely receive billions in tax cuts if it is repealed, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They value tax breaks for the wealthy over our very lives, so they will keep fighting for repeal as long as they are in power — if people need expensive care, they’re on their own.

Staying alive and protesting repeal:I'd be bankrupt or dead without the Affordable Care Act. We're both survivors — so far.

Eventually the overt repeal attempts failed, but they were not done. The Trump tax cut bill signed into law at the end of 2017 also removed the health insurance mandate fee portion of the ACA. This clause set up the case before the Supreme Court today.

Here’s what’s at stake if they succeed in dismantling the ACA: 133 million people with pre-existing conditions will be affected; 23 million, including myself, could lose their insurance outright. 

Medicaid expansion under the law would go away, leaving low-income families in the lurch. We could go back to the days of annual and lifetime limits for people with insurance; women could be charged more for health insurance; children would not be able to stay on their parents' plan until they turn 26; insurance wouldn't be required to cover the free preventative care we all rely on today. The "donut hole" could reopen for seniors on Medicare with high prescription drug costs. 

Laura Packard receiving chemotherapy.

And insurance companies could go back to picking and choosing their customers, selecting only the most healthy — and dropping people via rescission, the retroactive cancellation of a health insurance policy, if they ever truly needed their insurance.

We can't go back. 

Whitewashing the health care record

I'm one of the many millions who are essentially uninsurable without the ACA. I’m self-employed, and there is no Plan B. If my cancer returns, I will be bankrupt or dead without insurance. Even in remission, I cannot rest easy.

I moved to Colorado in 2019, because I wanted to live in a state with good state-level fall-back provisions in case Republicans succeeded in their quest to end the ACA. But nobody should have to live like this, a health care refugee in our own country.

Misrepresented what Barrett wrote:Would Amy Coney Barrett really strike down Obamacare? What liberals misunderstand

Millions more will join us in fear of losing insurance as they go through COVID-19 — which could become a pre-existing condition. We don’t even know yet what the longer-term health care needs will be for so-called “long-haulers,” people with debilitating side effects after a COVID-19 infection.

Our government has completely bungled their handling of this pandemic, and 215,000 people in the United States have died from it to date. Now, the administration is trying to take away the health care of millions more as an encore.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Oct. 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Trump and vulnerable Senate Republicans like my own Sen. Cory Gardner are trying to whitewash their record on health care. However, Amy Coney Barrett is a threat to our care, and every senator who votes for her needs to own it. 

Instead of passing another relief bill for the millions of Americans without jobs right now — including my sister — Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate are focusing on ramming through a court nomination over the objections of a majority of Americans.

I was honored to share my personal health care story with Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention in August. Not only did he promise to stop the attacks on our care, but he promised to me to expand health care access with a public option.

Now more than ever, this is a health care election. This November, health care is on the ballot and on the docket. All our lives are at stake. As voters, what will our ruling be? 

Laura Packard is a Denver-based health care advocate, founder of Health Care Voices, a non-profit grassroots organization for adults with serious medical conditions; serves as co-chair of Health Care Voter; and runs the pharma accountability campaign for Hero Action Fund. Follow her on Twitter: @lpackard