‘A gift from God.’ Utahn pleads with Congress to keep Obamacare

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Paul Gibbs talks about Utah's "bridge" Medicaid expansion program at a news conference in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park, April 1, 2019.

Washington • Paul Gibbs brought pictures of his sons to show Congress.

Without the Affordable Care Act they may not be alive, he said. Nor would he.

The West Valley City resident and board member of the Utah Health Policy Project testified before a House committee about how affordable health care is vital to Americans and that attacks against the 2010 law – such as a lawsuit backed by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes – are really an attack on people trying to stay alive.

“This law is commonly referred to as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare,” Gibbs told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “For me it's important to call this law by its full name: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because the patient protections of the ACA have been a gift from God for people like me and families like mine.”

Gibbs — who has been a strong defender of Proposition 3 that expanded Medicaid in Utah, which was later partially rolled back by state lawmakers — was one of four people to appear before the committee to detail how Obamacare has helped their lives.

Gibbs noted how his twin brother needed 17 surgeries before he was 5 years old and how he personally faced nine surgeries on his kidneys – medical procedures that left his parents financially struggling until their deaths.

In 2008, Gibbs, then a student without health care coverage, said he was told his kidney was failing and he needed a transplant at the cost of nearly $80,000. He narrowly fit the qualifications for government help and takes medication still to ensure the transplant sticks, a cost he says would rival his mortgage if not for Medicaid.

“I've heard opponents of the ACA say people don't die in America for lack of health care because they can go to the emergency room,” Gibbs said. “You can't get a kidney transplant at the E.R.”

Both his sons also faced health crises where he needed help to pay for their care.

Wednesday’s hearing comes as the Trump administration has refused to defend the Affordable Care Act in the lawsuit filed by several states’ Republican attorneys general, including Reyes, that seeks to strike the law down as unconstitutional. Previous attempts to challenge the law have mostly failed but that was at a time President Barack Obama’s administration forcefully defended his signature domestic accomplishment.

“If the Trump administration’s position prevails and the entire ACA is struck down there will be catastrophic implications for millions of Americans and the entire United States health care system,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Cummings had invited the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget to appear before the committee to answer questions about the administration's plan if the law is tossed but the official declined.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, called the hearing a farce because no officials from the Department of Health and Human Services or the Justice Department were invited to speak.

“This hearing is just another attack on President Trump and it's disappointing,” Jordan said.

Gibbs, who turned emotional at times during his testimony, said it was the opposite.

“We are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “Life comes first because without life all other rights are meaningless. Being subject to insurance companies able to deny us coverage – and make it prohibitively expensive because we’re sick – is not liberty. And without those protections, without access to health care, there can be no pursuit of happiness. My sons deserve the right. They deserve the right to be born. They deserve the right to stay alive and they deserve to have a father who has access to the care he needs to stay alive for them.”