Columns » The Provocateur

Ruling Obamacare unconstitutional will cost lives

One last gasp

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"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's a central tenet Christians and Jews are instructed to abide by in their faiths.

One of the ways that's best displayed is making sure citizens have quality, affordable health care. Yet a lot of Republicans have spent the last few years bitching about Obamacare. If you're one of those people, you make me sick. No pun intended.

In less than three months, by the end of the current session on June 30, the odds are 50-50 at best that the U.S. Supreme Court will declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Everyone knows how much the country's Republicans have fought this law, which has already survived one Supreme Court challenge. This current case, King v. Burwell, hangs on the flimsiest, most ridiculous "argument" yet.

The language of the original law contains the phrase "established by the State," in referring to the marketplaces that were to be set up by states, through which low-income people obtained subsidies, or credits, to make their premiums more affordable. When states like North Carolina refused to do so, those people instead turned to the nationally established marketplace. The Supreme Court case now rests on the meaning of the word "State," as in, did Congress, in passing the original law, intend for people in non-marketplace states to be able bypass them and go to the national system for help? (Of course they did!) What's at stake is the fate of nearly 10 million people across the country who wouldn't be allowed to turn to the Federal "State" anymore.

We can't count on North Carolina to help. Why? Gov. Pat McCrory refused to take billions of already allocated money from the federal government to properly expand Medicaid, thus leaving many people uninsured.

In November 2013, I spoke about this problem with Pat. Not only did he lie to me flat-out, but he also left me at great risk of dying. My friend Mike Collins, host of WFAE's Charlotte Talks, knew how much I'd been struggling to stay alive after being diagnosed with both cancer and liver disease two years earlier while still living in Maryland. There, I'd managed to hold on to good medical care because Maryland, even before Obamacare, had a good state plan that I could just barely afford. That is, until I couldn't work anymore.

When I moved back to Charlotte, my Maryland insurance plan ended. I was told by my doctors that I only had a few months to live. Because Pat and the General Assembly had refused to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, I fell into a massive hole — I couldn't qualify for any health care assistance. Much like nearly a half-million low-income people in the state. After talking to dozens of "officials" about my options and getting no help, I found myself running out of all the medications that were keeping me alive, and unable to see doctors or have any necessary procedures.

For an episode of Charlotte Talks, Mike asked the governor to join him on the air by phone for an hour. Mike also invited me to call in to discuss my issues. Mike knew I was facing the same problem being encountered by too many North Carolinians. Not to mention, Pat and I weren't strangers. Back in the '90s when he was just a city councilmember and I was a WBT Talk-Radio host, Pat came on the air as my "co-host" once.

But that day on Mike's show, hearing my name and voice put Pat immediately on the defensive. He cut me off mid-sentence and said, "Well, I'm so sorry you're having a hard time, Jerry, but your call is just about a personal problem, not one to discuss on the air now, and so I'll have one of my staff people call you."

Well, that was bull. I was speaking for hundreds of thousands in the same situation. Anyone care to lay odds on whether or not that call ever came?

Through the assistance of some friends, I made it through the next few months until I got a policy through the Affordable Care Act. It quite literally saved my life.

If the Supreme Court kills Obamacare, and the "holier-than-thou" Republicans here remain undeterred about expanding Medicaid appropriately, well, that might just finish me off.

If you claim to be a "good" Christian or Jew and identify with the Republicans, do something now — like demand lawmakers set up our own exchange and expand Medicaid — before it's too late. You might be next, and then maybe you'll understand what it means to be a person of faith.

Oh, and hey, Pat: I'm still waiting for that phone call.

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