Las Vegas resident Laura Packard is a self-employed small business owner who has stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and health insurance through an Affordable Care Act exchange. On Saturday, she was thrown out of a town hall event featuring Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) after she tried to ask him why he supports legislation that would strip coverage from people like her.
After the moderator of the LIBRE Initiative read Heller a question about the Republican tax cut plan that was written by Packard, she got up and said, “That’s my question, and I also have stage 4 cancer. Obamacare is keeping me alive. Why do you not care about the lives of thousands of Nevadans and millions of Americans? Why are you voting for me to lose my health coverage? Without it I will die.”
As Packard sat back down, a security guard approached her and asked her to leave. Video of the exchange was uploaded to Twitter by Battle Born Progress. (Heller’s staff denies they had anything to do with the decision to kick Packard out.)
Heller didn’t directly respond to Packard’s question as she left the room. Instead, he defended the inclusion of the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate in Senate Republicans’ tax bill, saying, “We got rid of the individual mandate. Ninety-thousand people within the state of Nevada have to pay a tax because they can’t afford Obamacare, and of those 90,000, 80 percent of them make less than $50,000. Tell me how that is fair?”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 13 million people will lose health insurance over the next decade if the individual mandate is repealed, and that the Republican tax plan will result in a $25 billion cut to Medicaid in fiscal year 2018.
During Saturday’s event, Heller went on to mention that aside from repealing the individual mandate, “the ACA is not touched” by the Republican tax plan. But that doesn’t shed any light on why Heller allowed himself to be strong-armed by President Trump in July into voting in favor of an Obamacare repeal bill that would have stripped more than 276,000 of his constituents of health care coverage and cost the state billions of dollars of federal funds.
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Packard — who had her last day of radiation treatment on Tuesday — said she didn’t hear Heller’s response because she “was in the midst of getting thrown out, so I didn’t really get a chance to listen to it, and I have not been calm enough to go back and watch his response.”
However, in a statement distributed by Battle Born Progress, Packard characterized the tax bill as “a giveaway to the rich [that] is paid for by throwing patients like me under the bus. Removing the mandate means fewer healthy people will sign up for insurance, leaving the sick people like me behind. Insurance costs will spiral out of control, aka the death spiral.”
Saturday wasn’t Packard’s first brush with Heller. In May, she starred in a viral video aimed at the vulnerable Republican senator in which she says, “I have gone through five treatments and I have several more to go, but the good news is that my doctors believe that I can be cured. I just need to keep my health insurance. So I’m asking Senator Heller, I’m begging Senator Heller… vote no on Trumpcare and save my life.”
Heller’s office responded to the video with a statement that didn’t address any of Packard’s concerns, but instead merely said, “Laura’s story is heartbreaking.”
In September, President Trump blocked Packard on Twitter after she posted a string of tweets criticizing him for supporting health care legislation that would jeopardize the lives of people like her who rely on Obamacare exchanges for coverage.
Packard told ThinkProgress that it appeared Heller’s people were on the lookout for her before Saturday’s event. Before the town hall started, Packard said a security guard approached her and admonished her to behave.
Packard said that the security guard who admonished her before the event wouldn’t give her his name or tell her who he worked for.
“I’m paraphrasing because my adrenaline was up, but the gist of what he said was ‘sit down and shut up,'” Packard said. “I’m just sitting there, I’m a citizen here to speak to my senator.”
On Twitter, Keith Schipper, a communications staffer for Heller, said security staff at the LIBRE event wasn’t working for Heller, and dismissed the controversy surrounding Packard’s ejection as “#fakenews.” Packard replied by asking him to clarify what part of her story is “fake.”
An NBC affiliate in Las Vegas reports that at least 10 people were ousted from the LIBRE event.