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Nevada Democrats reflect on Affordable Care Act and potential impact of U.S. Supreme Court nominee


Last week, just ahead of the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, the NVDems hosted a Zoom call with Nevada State Senator Julia Ratti (D-Sparks); AFSCME Local 4041 member Priscilla Maloney; and Joe Merlino, a local health care advocate. 

All three are cancer survivors. On the call, they shared stories about their experiences with the health care system and how it impacts their lives and the lives of all Nevadans on a daily basis in an effort to underscore how President Donald Trump’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act hurt Nevada families.

Merlino talked about life before having access to health care. He also talked about his recent diagnosis with COVID-19 and the loss of his mother to the disease.

“I thought cancer would be my biggest challenge in life, but, recently, at the end of July, COVID-19 entered my house,” he said. “I got very, very sick. My mom, who lived with me, got very, very sick. I could no longer take care of her. I was too ill. She couldn’t even get out of bed. I remember the day that the ambulance came and took her away. My biggest fear was that was the last time I was going to see her.” 

If the Affordable Care Act goes, we all go down together.”

Merlino’s mother was in the hospital for 10 days while he was “flattened by the virus for 14.” He said he stopped having a fever on Aug. 10 and begged the doctors to let him see his mother before she passed. 

“Finally, they let me get into a room, and I watched my mom slip away,” he said. “205,000 times this has happened to families, and Trump has done nothing but to call it a hoax…I’m here to put a face on the 205,000. This is my Mom; God rest your soul. While she was in the hospital, Mitch McConnell was on vacation; hope he enjoyed that vacation. Trump was playing golf and, again, telling people at his rallies that there was nothing to worry, that will just go away…It doesn’t go away.” 

“Thank God for the Affordable Care Act”

Merlino spoke about his fears of being denied coverage based on his preexisting conditions and noted that he’s currently furloughed from his job. He said if the Affordable Care Act were done away with, he’s not sure what he would do. He also spoke about his fears of lifetime caps on insurance coverage. 

“My first surgery was $210,000,” he said. “I remember starting jobs where they give you $1,000,000 or $2,000,000 caps. It doesn’t take long if you have a chronic disease to reach that cap, and then what are you going to do? There are going to be families struggling to figure out how to pay for health care, for medications and then they’re going to have to have to make hard decisions, like to pay a mortgage, eat, get meds, see a doctor, get treatment. These are not decisions anybody should have to make.”

Maloney talked about her long fight with breast cancer and the long-term implications for people with diagnoses like hers or those who have been afflicted with COVID-19 should the ACA be struck down in November by the Supreme Court, which may have a new jurist selected by Trump before then. California v Texas, challenging the constitutionality of the ACA, is to be heard on Nov. 10, the Tuesday after election day.

“So, I was diagnosed in January 2016,” Maloney said. “I was in shock when they told me because I couldn’t feel it.”

She said the doctors informed her she had three tumors in her breast and that they would need to “throw the kitchen sink” at her if they had any hope to save her life.  

“My first thought was ‘thank God for the Affordable Care Act,’” she said. “Now, I went into my cancer diagnosis also being diagnosed in 2009 with Lupus, and my doctor told me then, ‘You know, thank God for the Affordable Care Act because people like you would be uninsurable if you lose your employer-paid health care.’ … So, if the Affordable Care Act goes, we all go down together.”

The rush for a judge

The panelists spoke about what they’ve perceived as the rushing of a Supreme Court nomination so close to the general election, and about the potential risk that the upcoming hearing and potential ruling in November’s case may mean.

“It’s pretty disgusting that we have people that are suffering, people that are out of work, the extended unemployment benefits have ended, and Mitch McConnell hasn’t done anything to touch the HEROES ACT,” Merlino said. “He said there was no rush and now we’re rushing through to get someone seated on the Supreme Court.”

State Senator Julia Ratti.

He said he finds the move “unconscionable,” a sentiment Senator Ratti echoed.

“The priority should be addressing this pandemic,” she said. “The priority should be focusing on ‘how do we get more health care to more people?’ not stripping away the Affordable Care Act from people who need it, maybe right now. I tend to focus on the things I can control, and I think the only thing that can protect us from losing so much ground on health care is to elect Joe Biden–and not just Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but Democrats up and down the ticket.

“We need to flip the Senate. We need to make sure that we have more Democratic state legislators…We need to make sure that we have Democratic county commissioners. These health care decisions are made in all of those cases and, in 2016, it was the state legislature that was the backstop the that fought back, our Democratic Attorney General who filed lawsuits to protect the ACA…Now more than ever, we need to build a defense against what the Supreme Court may do when it comes to affordable care, to the Affordable Care Act.”

She noted that 300,000 Nevadans would lose their health care if the ACA is struck down. 

As Ratti and her fellow cancer survivors brave the dangers of daily survival, a clear test now presents itself to them. Another test awaits the entire country in the coming weeks as it waits to see what legislators will do with the judicial nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. A third lies in who the nation will decide to lead the executive branch at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Don Dike Anukam
Don Dike Anukam
Don Dike-Anukam is a Reno native attending college in northern Nevada. He has been involved in activist politics for 15 years on and off, and has been involved in multiple campaigns in multiple positions in that time. He also was a college radio political, news, and talk-show host covering a range of stories from hostage standoffs, fires, interviews, and public speeches.