Cancer survivor to Paul Ryan: I once opposed Obamacare, but it saved my life

A cancer survivor challenged House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on his campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act — crediting President Obama’s signature health bill with saving his life.

At a CNN town hall Thursday night, Jeff Jeans, of Sedona, Ariz., told Ryan that he was a lifelong Republican and a small-business owner who had previously worked for President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush. Jeans said he was initially adamantly against Obamacare.

“When it was passed, I told my wife we would close our business before I complied with this law,” he said at the George Washington University event.

Jeans recalled how he was diagnosed with a “very curable type of cancer” at 49, and told he only had six weeks to live. He was denied treatment, he continued, because he didn’t have an insurance card — even though he offered to pay three times the cost.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I’m standing here today, alive,” he said.

As a small-business owner and a person with preexisting conditions, Jeans said, he relies on the Affordable Care Act to purchase his own health insurance. Then he asked Ryan a pointed question.

Jeff Jeans, left, who is a cancer survivor, questions House Speaker Paul Ryan about the Affordable Care Act at a town hall event at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (Photo: CNN)
Jeff Jeans, left, who is a cancer survivor, questions House Speaker Paul Ryan about the Affordable Care Act at a town hall event at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (Photo: CNN)

“Why would you repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement?” he asked.

“We wouldn’t do that. We want to replace it with something better,” Ryan responded. “First of all, I’m glad you’re standing here. I mean really, seriously!”

The crowd broke into applause and Jeans asked if he could say one more thing before Ryan proceeded with his answer.

“I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart, because I would be dead if it weren’t for him,” Jeans said, receiving applause from the audience.

After a bit of small talk, Ryan said that Obamacare premiums have been rising throughout the United States: 116 percent in Arizona, 69 percent in Oklahoma, 63 percent in Tennessee, and 59 percent in Minnesota.

“This thing’s collapsing. So do we want to make sure that a person like yourself with a preexisting condition gets affordable care? Of course, of course. There is a better way to fix that problem without giving everybody else all these premium increases,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the Obamacare deductibles have gotten so high that some people are avoiding going to the doctor because they don’t even feel like they have insurance anymore. He argued that funding state high-risk pools is a safer way to guarantee that people with preexisting conditions can buy coverage, and that it would dramatically decrease the price of health insurance for everyone else.

Afterward, town hall moderator Jake Tapper asked Ryan to clarify whether the process of establishing a new system will coincide with the process of repealing Obamacare. Some Republicans have floated a “repeal-and-delay” strategy that would scrap the law years after the repeal bill passed, giving lawmakers time to hash out the health care policy that would replace it.

“Without getting into all the little legislative mumbo-jumbo, we want to do this at the same time, and in some cases, in the same bill,” Ryan said.

The Republican-led Congress has already begun the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 51-48 for a resolution directing specific committees to draft legislation for repealing it, and President-elect Donald Trump — a longtime critic of Obamacare — praised the move on Twitter.

The exchange between Jeans and Ryan about health care was just one moment in a wide-ranging town hall that touched on many key issues, including Russia and illegal immigration.

Ryan also told an undocumented Oklahoma woman that he was working with Trump on a “good, humane solution” for families now protected under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Despite Trump’s comments on the campaign trail, Ryan said she should not be worried about a “deportation force.”

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