News 13 Investigates: What would an ACA replacement mean for people in WNC?

Ashley Jernigan says she's grateful for the free medical care she gets at ABCCM in Asheville, since she can't afford insurance. She's a server who makes too little to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Republicans scramble for a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as President Donald Trump predicts the current law will implode.

The nationwide debate is impacting people here in the mountains, as well.


Ashley Jernigan says she's grateful for the free medical care she gets at ABCCM in Asheville, since she can't afford insurance.

Jernigan says she suffers from severe asthma and other medical conditions and is worried about her health and her health coverage.

She's a server who makes too little to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

"I was shocked I thought that was supposed to help all of us," Jernigan said.

Jernigan makes less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, which means she isn't eligible for any coverage under the current law.

"It's very, very frustrating, and I mean, it's almost heartbreaking to a degree... to feel like you're not important enough to be able to take care of yourself," she said.

Jernigan is not alone. ABCCM Executive Director Scott Rogers says she's one of thousands who is still uninsured.

"We were all surprised when the county presented us with the figures," Rogers said.

He said he was shocked to learn the uninsured rate only dropped about 6 percent in Buncombe County over the past three years under the Affordable Care Act.

"While the numbers are dropping, we aren't closing the gap as quickly as we thought we would," Rogers said.

Rogers says it's because Asheville is a tourist destination, so many residents work in the service industry, often earning low incomes -- a population the ACA didn't help.

"Adults making less than $12,000 a year just aren't eligible, and that's a large number of our population and has been part of the concern lots of folks have," Rogers.


But some have a much different story to tell about the Affordable Care Act.

Kenny Capps says he doesn't know if he would be alive without it. He and his wife own a small business and had dropped their health coverage weeks before they got the devastating news that Capps had cancer in 80 percent of his bone marrow.

"In January of 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer. So, I was diagnosed with cancer with no insurance," Capps said.

But, he was quickly able to get insurance through the ACA, which covered his pre-existing condition and his expensive medical bills.

Two years later, he's in remission, and says he owes it all to a system that could soon be repealed.

"I think that I might not be here without it. I think that it may have saved my life," Capps said.

Jackie Kiger works at Pisgah Legal and helps people enroll in the ACA. She says more than 86,000 people signed up for insurance for 2017 in Western North Carolina. She says those people were glad to see last month's replacement bill fail.

"A huge sign of relief and a huge feeling of, 'OK, I've got my coverage, and it's still in place," Kiger said.

She believes what's being discussed on Capitol Hill would strip coverage to millions more and cut out key benefits in most plans.

"There were very specific aspects of that bill that would impact mainly people here in WNC, specifically low income families as well as low income seniors," Kiger said.


North Carolina Representative Mark Meadows says he fought hard to stop the recent replacement bill, the American Health Care Act.

"We need to see one thing and that is premiums must come down for the citizens of North Carolina, but not just for North Carolina, but across the country," Meadows said.

Meadows is the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and played perhaps the biggest role in killing last month's repeal plan.

As President Donald Trump predicts that the ACA will implode, Meadows says some pieces of it are working. He says he won't settle for another plan unless it improves health coverage for more Americans.

"We need to leave pre-existing conditions. We need to leave kids 26 years old on their own. All the things I'm hearing from my constituents that they like about the Affordable Care Act, we can leave those in there, but we need to repeal the other things to bring down premiums," Meadows said.

Blue Cross is the only provider on the Affordable Care Act in North Carolina. They sent News 13 this response:

"Recent developments with American Health Care Act do not diminish the urgent need to address the fundamental problems with our health care system. All parties involved consumers, insurers, health care providers, policy makers must continue to work together to create a system that provides value for what we spend on health care. It's important to remember that our customers' 2017 ACA plans and coverage remain in effect."

Republicans were hoping to pass a new version of a replacement bill by Friday.

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