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What the Heller? A Conversation with Health Care Activist Laura Packard on the Trump-GOP Tax Plan Means for Nevada

With the House and the Senate narrowly approving the Trump-GOP Tax Plan in the past 36 hours, the bill now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk. What did Senator Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) just vote to pass? We speak with Las Vegas resident, stage four cancer survivor, and nationally renowned health care activist Laura Packard on what this bill means for her, and for the future of health care in Nevada.

Why this tax bill is also a health care bill

Tucked deep into the Trump-GOP Tax Plan is removal of the individual health insurance mandate from the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). Since Republicans have previously failed to repeal larger chunks of Obamacare, this is their one rare success in reshaping the nation’s health care law.  

Even though this tax bill just removes one section of Obamacare, removing this one section may lead to 13 million more uninsured Americans. For Packard, that’s a very big deal. “Anybody can become sick or have a catastrophic accident at any time.” Packard continued, “We need to be looking at ways to make health care great again, not take it away from 13 million people.”

“This […] hurts everybody because we’ll be paying for the costs of the uninsured in the most expensive and least effective way – at the E.R.”
– Laura Packard
Photo by Andrew Davey

When Heller appeared at the LIBRE Forum in Las Vegas earlier this month, Packard finally had her chance to confront Heller on his health care votes after multiple attempts to reach him throughout the year. For Packard, this is personal. She obtained insurance through Nevada Health Link, the state’s Obamacare exchange, and that insurance has enabled her to get the chemotherapy she needed to fight cancer.

Like many health care experts, Packard fears the ramifications of removing so many Americans from the health insurance exchanges. “Taking healthy people out of the market will increase premiums by 10% or more. More insurance companies may pull out of the market altogether,” Packard warned. “This hurts sick people like me, and hurts everybody because we’ll be paying for the costs of the uninsured in the most expensive and least effective way – at the E.R. Those costs get passed on to everybody with insurance.”

“There’s no way it passes the House, so this is quibbling about a unicorn fantasyland.”
– Laura Packard, on Senator Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) health care proposal

Though they never had to worry about Senator Dean Heller’s (R) vote, Republican leaders had to tweak their tax bill and make additional promises to secure enough votes for passage. One of those promises was the inclusion of two health insurance exchange stabilization bills in the upcoming “CRominbus” spending bill in exchange for Senator Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) vote for the tax plan. However, Collins has already agreed to vote for the short-term spending bill this week and delay votes on the insurance stabilization bills until a longer-term budget package emerges next year.

For Packard, Collins’ health care gambit is too little, too late: “Her bill will not take the place of the damage this bill will do to us.” Not only does she doubt Collins’ proposal would be enough to undo the damage done by repealing the individual mandate, but she also doubts Senate Republicans’ ability to get House Republicans on board with it. “There’s no way it passes the House, so this is quibbling about a unicorn fantasyland.”

“We need to be looking at ways to make health care great again, not take it away from 13 million people.”
– Laura Packard

Though President Trump hasn’t yet signed his signature tax plan into law, it’s already registered strong disapproval among American voters. Packard hopes this will serve as a wake-up call for the White House and Congress. “These votes affect real people, like myself and Emily Reese in Reno. Anybody can become sick or have a catastrophic accident at any time.”

Packard then offered this twist one of Trump’s famous campaign slogans: “We need to be looking at ways to make health care great again, not take it away from 13 million people.”

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