Hundreds attend Knoxville town hall to discuss access to health care

WATE 6 On Your Side staff - KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Lawmakers have vowed to either repeal, replace or repair the Affordable Care Act. Many people have questions about how that will impact their health insurance.

A non-partisan grassroots citizen's coalition is hoping to answer some of those questions. The group has partnered with the city of Knoxville, Tennessee Healthcare Campaign and Knoxville League of Women Voters to hold a town hall Thursday night at Whittle Springs Middle School. Most of the people who attended were in support of repairing the Affordable Care Act rather than replacing or repealing it.

Two of those people were Caroleigh Heaton and her daughter Cassidy Heaton. They shared in front of the crowd that the Affordable Care Act saved Cassidy Heaton's life. Cassidy Heaton battled with anorexia and received inpatient treatment for months.

"Without insurance, it would not have been possible. We would not have been able to afford it," said Cassidy Heaton.

The thought of Obamacare going away scares them.

"There is always a chance for relapse and there is always a need for continuing care," said Cassidy Heaton.

The attendees sent a clear message to Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday. A loud standing ovation occurred after a speaker said, "This is not a partisan issue. This is a human rights issue."

WATE 6 On Your Side anchor Lori Tucker moderated the free discussion with a panel of area health care and policy experts.

The town hall's organizer Randy Kurth said, "changes to the ACA will affect us all. Even if you do not get your insurance through Obamacare, the pending legislation will ultimately affect everyone's insurance coverage and premiums, including Medicare."

Kurth and his wife, Barbara Nicodemus, said they decided to organize the town hall for a very personal reason. Kurth was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. He had surgery in 2015 and finished seven weeks of radiation treatment a month ago.

Today, Kurth says his prognosis is good, but if his cancer returns and he doesn't have health insurance he is worried it could bankrupt his family.

"Through the ACA and my health insurance is renewed every October, so every year we have to make decisions about our healthcare and the fact that there is so much indecision right now with what is going to happen with not only ACA policies, but people who have private insurance or Medicare," said Kurth. "We were really curious just to contact our state legislatures and get some answers to some basic questions."

Nicodemus said several of their family members depend on the healthcare marketplace for insurance. She is also worried her premiums may go up because of her age.

"I was really concerned about our future," said Nicodemus. "Randy retired early because longevity isn't great in his family and we were watching for the cancer, so now we're just sitting here thinking 'what is the future for healthcare and our family?'"

Kurth and Nicodemus decided to organize a town hall to address some of the issues they had. Stressing that the town hall is not a rally, Nicodemus said she hopes they can get questions answered in a calm concise and civil matter.

Organizers have reached out to U.S. Senators and House Representative, but to date, all have declined to attend. Several issued statements to WATE 6 On Your Side.

Sen Bob Corker said:

"From the beginning of these discussions, I have said that the best way to deal with this issue is to repeal and replace simultaneously. I am encouraged that debate has shifted from ‘repeal only' to ‘repeal and replace' in a thoughtful and deliberative manner. To do that effectively, we need to provide the Trump administration, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, time to review the regulatory and legislative steps needed to replace the Affordable Care Act. They have a process underway which, in the near term, should help stabilize the individual insurance market as issuers plan for 2018. That is a first step. There is much more to follow, including actions that Congress will take in the weeks ahead. It is important we get this right, so I am actually glad Congress is taking its time to ensure we put in place a responsible alternative that works for the American people."

Rep. Jimmy Duncan said:

"Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, needs to happen as quickly as possible.  This is even more evident now that Humana has pulled out and so many Tennesseans will have no health insurance options next year.  But House Committee chairmen and leadership are taking the necessary time to finalize a careful replacement plan that will hopefully improve the lives of all Americans.  I'll be closely reviewing this legislation as it moves through the committee process."

Sen. Lamar Alexander said:

"I began warning last year that Tennesseans with Affordable Care Act subsidies are going to be like holders of a bus ticket in a town that has no buses running because the individual exchange market is collapsing and there may be no insurance for them to buy—exactly what we just learned may happen in Knoxville because the only insurance company available on the exchange is leaving next year. I have proposed immediate congressional and administrative action to rescue those trapped in the collapsing market. I regularly meet with Tennesseans in my offices to discuss the damage Obamacare has caused-- including how it has increased premiums and deductibles and cut patients off from the doctors and hospitals they counted on-- and how to replace it with more health care choices that cost less. I have twice invited Tennessee's state insurance commissioner – who has said the Obamacare insurance market is 'very near collapse' –  to brief senators and invited her to testify at a congressional hearing."

Panelists include:

  • Jerry Askew - Tennova Administrator
  • Carole Myers - UT College of Nursing
  • Michael Holtz - American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
  • Matt Harris - UT Department of Economics
  • Richard Henighan - TN Health Care Campaign

Several Knoxville-area families will also share their first-person stories about the ACA's effect on their lives, after which the panel will discuss the impact of the proposed repeal and replacement and answer questions from the public.

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