Denver cancer survivor and health care advocate Laura Packard took part Tuesday night in a panel discussion about the Affordable Care Act with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and four others who described how the legislation has made it possible to deal with medical challenges.
Biden, who was formally designated the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nominee just moments earlier, told the panelists that he would fight efforts by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers to repeal or weaken the law, known as Obamacare and a signature achievement of the Obama-Biden administration.
"Ever since I was diagnosed, every night I would go to bed concerned about what news I would get in the morning," said Packard, who was diagnosed in 2017 with stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma, during the roughly four-minute, pre-recorded segment.
"Even today, they're still trying to take away our health care, even during a pandemic."
Following months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the cancer has been in remission, Packard said later.
Addressing Packard, who appeared on one of five large video monitors, Biden said, "Well, you beat Hodgkins lymphoma, God love ya, but during it all Trump was trying to rip away your coverage. The day you got your first chemo, Republicans voted to gut the ACA. I can't imagine what it must have been like going to sleep at night wondering what to do."
Then Biden outlined his health care proposal.
"We're going to make sure we don't lose that ACA," he said. "We're going to provide a Medicare-like option as a public option, and any state, if you qualify for Medicaid and the state hasn't provided it, you'd automatically be enrolled. I'm going to protect you like I tried to protect my own family — my own family. And I promise you that."
The prime-time segment aired just before 8:30 p.m. Mountain Time, on the convention's second night, following a keynote address delivered by 17 younger Democrats and speeches by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. It came right after the first-ever remote roll call held at a national convention, which made Biden's nomination official.
Packard told Colorado Politics on Tuesday that she worked to help pass the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 but "never realized it was going to save my life years later."
"While I was going through treatment was when the Republicans were trying to repeal the ACA, which was what was keeping me alive, so that was a pretty stressful time in my life," she said.
While Republicans have sidelined their efforts to undo the law legislatively in recent years, a lawsuit to repeal the law, spearheaded by GOP attorneys general and backed by the Trump administration, is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"With this pandemic, you can think that you're healthy and then find out that you're not, if you get an antigen test," Packard said, adding that she has tested negative for the coronavirus.
"If the ACA was repealed, we could face a situation where insurance companies could pick and choose who they want to cover. COVID-19 could turn a lot of us into people with pre-existing conditions."
She said the pandemic has bolstered her sense of urgency over keeping the law in place and expanding access to affordable health care for all Americans.
"It's made it clear that we're all in this together, that my health depends on your health, and if you don't have access to health care and you can't get tested and treated for COVID, we're all at risk," she said. "A system of health care like we have right now, where some people have great health care and some people don't, means we're all vulnerable. It threatens people with good health care if other people don't have health care."
Packard said they recorded the panel about a week and a half ago, but her participation began at the beginning of August, when she receive an email inviting her to talk about health care during the DNC. It wasn't until closer to the taping, though, that she learned it would involve a discussion with Biden.
Convention officials sent her a video kit — a tripod, phone and detailed instructions — and they held a rehearsal, she said, before holding the roughly half-hour discussion.
"I had never met Joe Biden before," she said with a laugh. "I don't know if this counts — I have now e-met Joe Biden."
She said it was "nerve-wracking" to talk with somebody who might be the next president of the United States but added, "Getting beyond that, he is a man who lost his wife and his daughter, and his son, Beau, died of cancer. We related to him about that."
Others who took part in the discussion included Steve Gomez of Gilbert, Arizona, whose 4-year-old son was born with a congenital heart condition and received a heart transplant his family could afford under the ACA. Jeff Jeans of Sedona, Arizona, identified as a longtime Republican, said he was able to beat stage 4 cancer after signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Packard attended the 2008 DNC in Denver as an observer and the 2012 DNC in Charlotte, N.C., as a delegate, and said she was excited to take part "on a virtual stage" in a national convention.
"I think that Democrats recognize the importance of defeating Donald Trump," she said. "We've seen 170,000 people die, and I have no confidence that the administration has a plan to make things any better. Regardless of where you are politically, this administration doesn't seem to know what to do about the pandemic.
"This is a life-or-death election. Often, people don't mean that literally, but in the middle of a pandemic, having expertise in charge of government is a matter of life or death."