Regina Paleau said she never knew all the members of the cabinet before, never watched live White House media briefings. Not that she wasn’t political, she had been a lifelong liberal and member of the Westerleigh Improvement Society, a long-standing Staten Island political club. But there was a reason she tried to get in touch with elected officials, including Rep. Dan Donovan, on Nov. 9: she is a grateful beneficiary of Obamacare, and didn’t want to see it dismantled. Donovan was at that point undecided on the issue.
House Republicans scheduled a vote Thursday on a health care bill which would force his and other elected officials’ hands.
But it hasn’t been as easy as waving their hands to make President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement disappear. Some House Republicans, particularly those in districts with much to lose from killing health care advances, have uneasily watched the outcry from many happy Obamacare recipients. Those recipients are concerned that theirs and their neighbor’s health care is threatened.
Paleau, 60, is the primary breadwinner for two kids on the North Shore, and she says she struggled through periods without insurance. Her younger daughter was born premature and weighed four pounds. The child also was diagnosed with autism, meaning that in the first few years of her daughter’s life Paleau freelanced as a marketer from home to care for and shuttle her to doctor’s appointments.
She didn’t qualify for Medicaid due to her car and house, despite sometimes being what she called “working poor.” (Her daughter had insurance because of her disability.) She was not always able to afford private plans.
It meant the kind of makeshift attempts that don’t translate to good health: trying to get antibiotics through a friend’s sister-in-law who was a nurse since she wasn’t covered. That didn’t work out. She stayed sick until she got better.
In recent years, Paleau landed a corporate job that came with good coverage. But her job assignment changed; she was let go; and by 2015 she found herself off the rolls again.
This time, though, Obamacare changed the story, and she qualified for health care through the expansion of Medicaid. She was able to keep hers and her daughter’s doctors at Staten Island University Hospital. And she was determined to let her elected officials know what a boon it had been.
While the Congressional Budget Office estimates that an early version of the Republican plan would reduce the insured by 24 million by 2026, it would not necessarily kick Paleau or other Medicaid beneficiaries off the ranks. The bill’s defenders have taken pains to note that those who are signed up for Medicaid’s current levels by 2020 could be grandfathered in.
But if coverage is interrupted, it won’t necessarily be reinstated. Medicaid is paid for by federal and some state funds — the repeal-and-replace plan endangers the federal funding source, potentially forcing states to adjust qualifications. And it goes without saying that Paleau’s peers in the future wouldn’t even have a chance at her break.
That’s what drove Paleau to go to Donovan, NYC’s sole Republican in Congress. She and members of the group Fight Back Bay Ridge released a video urging him to vote no on the legislation. He hasn’t held a physical town hall this year, opting for a telephone town hall with 18 questions and no follow-ups allowed. The protesters got the sense he was avoiding them.
But he met with some of them one-on-one. Paleau got in with his communications director, Pat Ryan, on Friday. The founder of the group, Mallory McMahon, met with Donovan in his D.C. office on Monday. McMahon says he underscored that he was a different kind of Congressional Republican, cognizant of his many constituents who rely on Obamacare, but seemed to be “playing it close to the vest.” The meeting took place after Donovan met with President Donald Trump, who had gone up to Capitol Hill to pressures House Republicans to fall in line.
In an interview earlier this week, Paleau had said she hoped Donovan wouldn’t go along. She said she understood he didn’t always “have a privileged life,” that he grew up in a middle-class family. “The man has to have a heart.”
By the end of the day Tuesday, Donovan had spoken: he vowed to vote no, citing an amendment’s threat to state taxes in addition to the effect on seniors and hospitals.
McMahon welcomed the news but hoped Donovan wouldn’t later vote yes on an equally bad health care bill.
Paleau was more excited. “Oh my god,” she said multiple times when reached by phone. “He listened. I can only say I’m thrilled.”
She added that she planned to call his office “and leave a message and say thank you, thank you.”