Cancer survivor presses Nunn to commit to protecting Affordable Care Act

Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) and Laura Packard, a health-care activist and cancer survivor, discuss the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday. Photo submitted

By Ty Rushing

March 20, 2024

Laura Packard wanted to ask Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) what she thought was a simple question: Would he protect the Affordable Care Act?

Packard is a stage IV cancer survivor and health-care activist from Virginia. Saving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of her biggest priorities because the landmark legislation that turns 14 on March 23 helped save her life.

The 47-year-old was diagnosed with stage four IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system and is part of the body’s germ-fighting immune system—in spring 2017 and Packard started treatment that May.

“The day after my first chemotherapy appointment is when Republicans in the US House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which was keeping me alive,” Packard said. “So I was paying very close attention and that was before Rep. Nunn was in office.”

Nunn was elected in 2022 and has served as the representative for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Des Moines, since January 2023.

The ACA survived the 2017 attempt to repeal it. Still, Republicans have continued to make campaign promises to end it, including former President Donald Trump who recently secured his position as the GOP’s nominee for president.

On Tuesday, Packard, who serves as executive director of the Health Care Voter nonprofit, joined Iowans who were going to Nunn’s downtown Des Moines office to deliver a petition asking him to protect and defend the ACA.

When Packard got word that Nunn was having a press conference at the Des Moines International Airport, she made her way there and spoke with him for about a minute. The interaction was captured on video and shared with Starting Line. 

After telling Nunn she was a cancer survivor, Packard asked him to “promise to not ever vote against the Affordable Care Act because people’s lives like mine depend on it.”

“Thank you so much,” Nunn responded. “Do you have a specific bill that you are concerned about?”

Packard said she was concerned about the ACA and potential cuts to it as conversations about repealing it have drummed back up.

“If there’s another repeal vote, how would you vote,” Packard asked Nunn.

“So, I haven’t heard anything about a repeal vote. Do you have a bill number,” Nunn responded.

Packard said Trump has said he would repeal the ACA and asked is that something he would support. Nunn said, “Trump’s not president right now,” and that his office looks at every bill as they come forward. He also noted he’s not on a committee that’s proposing ACA repeal.

“We’ve doubled down on making sure cancer survivors—like my mother—also have access to it. We’re very committed to it,” Nunn said, although he did not specify what “it” was. He also invited Packard to join his staff in his office to talk through legislation. 

Packard then asked Nunn again if he would commit to not voting for any cuts to the ACA and taking health insurance away from people like her.

“Did you hear what I just said,” said Nunn, who then thanked Packard and ended the conversation and shook her hand.

In an interview, Packard said she thought Nunn got snarky with her at the end and she did not appreciate that.

“This isn’t a game, I have a preexisting condition for life,” she said. “If I lost my insurance through the Affordable Care Act, I’m uninsurable.

“I’m a couple decades away from Medicare, so it might be easy for him with his congressional health insurance through his job to not care bout people like me and Iowans who desperately need coverage, but we’re real and I would appreciate that he would listen to us.”

Packard went through six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation treatment and has been in remission since 2018. Because she’s self-employed, her medical coverage may not have been up to par with the plans available to her through the ACA.

“I am so grateful that I had my insurance through the Affordable Care Act because it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to save my life and too many people before the ACA could not [and] did not afford that,” Packard said. 

Packard recalled reading articles about other people who had the same kind of “junk health insurance” she had before the ACA who were dropped by their providers after they received a cancer diagnosis. She said in those situations, those people were forced to sue the insurance companies to retain coverage.

“That would have been me,” Packard said. “If I didn’t have ACA insurance today, I would either be bankrupt or dead.”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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