Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks to constituents at a town hall in Seattle on July 6. Photo by Ryan Murray
Rep. Pramila Jayapal speaks to constituents at a town hall in Seattle on July 6. Photo by Ryan Murray

When Leigh Pate was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011, her insurance plan had a $5,000 deductible.

By the time she was in remission, her treatment rang in at more than $300,000, at least $15,000 of which she was liable for. When Pate was diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer in December 2016, she wasn’t sure how she would pay for it.

Pate is one of more than 298,000 Washingtonians who will likely lose health care should a proposed healthcare bill in the United States Senate pass. The American Health Care Act, colloquially known as “Trumpcare,” has massive cuts slated for Medicaid should it pass. According to a Congressional Budget Office score, more than 22 million Americans will lose health care coverage outright, and millions more could face the resurgence of lifetime caps and being declined for pre-existing conditions.

For Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents Washington’s 7th District, that was unacceptable.

She spoke to and heard input from hundreds of constituents at Town Hall Seattle on Thursday, July 6.

“This is not a health care bill,” she said of the Senator Paul Ryan-sponsored proposal. “It cannot be a health care bill if it cuts insurance for 22 million Americans.”

Jayapal, who took office in January, has touted a single-payer health care system since she was elected.

A single-payer system is one in which a single public entity organizes health care financing while the delivery of care remains in private hands. In theory, it would mean all Americans would pay into health care and be covered for any primary care or emergency visits, preventative care, dental, vision and any other medical costs.

“I’m a huge supporter of single-payer health care,” Jayapal said. “And nothing would be less helpful on that front than getting rid of the Affordable Care Act.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was signed into law in 2010. Since then it has been a flashpoint issue in a health care debate. Some on the right believe the act is an unfair tax. Some on the left think it doesn’t go far enough in covering Americans.

Since its inception, the Affordable Care Act has insured at least 22 million Americans. However, insurance rates for many on the open marketplace have ballooned. Data from the Census Bureau suggests that at least 9.1 percent of Americans remain uninsured.

Despite glaring flaws in the bill, some of those in the medical community, such as Dr. Scott Barnhart, say it was a monumental step forward for health care in the United States.

“The ACA gave us a way to expand insurance for literally millions of Americans,” he said.

Barnhart is a professor at the University of Washington and attending physician at Harborview Medical Center. He moderated the town hall for Jayapal.

A pair of Jayapal’s constituents told their story on stage and how the proposed health care bill potentially heading to a vote in Congress would impact them.

Melissa Watts is the caretaker for her son Max, who was born with a host of physical and developmental disabilities. She said stories like hers and her son’s are too often overlooked.

“People have a lot of sympathy for disabled children,” Watts said. “But disabled children grow into disabled adults, and they still need care.”

She said that a facility that could adequately take care of Max and his needs would run in the neighborhood of $6,000 a month. Watts said that she gets $2,300 from the state’s Medicaid personal care program, saving taxpayers $3,700 each month.

With the Congressional Budget office estimating cuts to Medicaid of more than $772 billion in the Senate health care bill, Watts is concerned she will not be able to provide Max the help he needs to stay healthy and a part of his community.

“You’re looking right here at a non-exportable industry,” she said. “[President] Trump wants to save jobs in the moribund coal industry. My job is just as important as a coal miner’s job.”

Despite a decidedly partisan crowd, Jayapal encouraged her constituents to applaud the group of Republican Senators who have publically stated they do not support “Trumpcare,” including Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

She wrapped up her speech to the crowd by reminding them to stay engaged.

“We are going to fight incredibly hard to make sure we preserve health care for Americans,” Jayapal said. “Once we lose Medicaid, we will not get it back.”