By Steve Eder – – – – –
Last fall, Mike Valde attended a Ted Cruz speech, where the Texas senator delivered his standard presidential promise to repeal President Obama’s signature health care law.
As he sat in the audience, Mr. Valde, 63, of Coralville, Iowa, thought of his brother-in-law, Mark Gaffney, who had recently died but had also used the law to buy insurance. Mr. Valde said he had begun to wonder how Mr. Cruz would replace the Affordable Care Act – and how it would impact people like Mr. Gaffney.
“After I saw him there, I didn’t say a word. I wished I had asked him something,” Mr. Valde, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, recalled in a phone interview Sunday. “Why didn’t I speak up and say, ‘How do you take care of the Mark Gaffneys of the world?’”
So, on Saturday, Mr. Valde got his chance – and took it – during an intense exchange with Mr. Cruz in a middle school cafeteria in Hubbard, Iowa. Mr. Valde described how Mr. Gaffney, a barber in Arizona, worked for himself and never had a paid vacation day, and used the health care law, at last, to buy insurance. He began feeling ill and went to a doctor, and soon learned he had terminal cancer, Mr. Valde told Mr. Cruz. The room went silent.
“Mark never had health care until Obamacare,” Mr. Valde told Mr. Cruz, “What are you going to replace it with?”
Mr. Cruz, during a back-and-forth, expressed condolences, while also deriding the law as a job-killer that has made insurance premiums “skyrocket.”
The exchange became a highly discussed moment on the campaign trail during the final days before the Iowa caucuses. Later Saturday, Mrs. Clinton mentioned it during a rally at a high school, criticizing how Mr. Cruz does not offer an alternative to the health care law.
Mr. Valde and his wife, Jill, Mr. Gaffney’s sister, attended a Bill Clinton rally on Sunday and chatted with Mr. Clinton in the rope line, with the former president telling them that he had heard about the question posed to Mr. Cruz.
The Valdes said they were surprised by the attention, with word of the exchange getting back to Mr. Gaffney’s friends hundreds of miles away. “When Mark’s friends saw it in Arizona, they said, ‘Thanks for bringing it up,’” Mrs. Valde said.
Republicans in Congress have repeatedly tried to repeal the health care law, which they see as an expensive government program, but President Obamahas vetoed their attempts. The law is unpopular in public opinion polls, and Mr. Cruz and virtually all the other Republican candidates have vowed to get rid of it if elected.
Mr. and Mrs. Valde said in the interview that before the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Gaffney had been either uninsured or lightly insured, making it prohibitively expensive for him to see doctors.
“He was having financial problems and the last thing he could do was pay to take care of himself,” Mrs. Valde said. “He’d say: ‘It’s just too expensive. I can’t afford to go.’”
When coverage under the health care law went into effect in 2014, Mrs. Valde said, she suggested to her brother that he should sign up, and he eventually did, though she did not know precisely when.
It was last spring when they visited him that they noticed that he appeared unwell, and they encouraged him to see a doctor. By summer, he told them that he had terminal cancer, and he died on Aug. 16 at age 58.
The Valdes said that they did not believe that earlier access to the health insurance necessarily would have saved Mr. Gaffney’s life, but that his plight convinced them that the access to coverage he ultimately obtained would be important for others. They were grateful, they said, that Mr. Gaffney was eventually able to see a doctor.
“What about people like him? Mr. Valde said. “People could be saved.”
He added, “There are a lot of Mark Gaffneys out there.”