Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., made national news last week after one of his staffers was recorded telling a cancer survivor that finding affordable healthcare was something she would “have to figure out” and comparing health care to a dress shirt.
Bev Veals of Carolina Beach, a three-time cancer survivor, called Tillis’ office, fearing she might lose her healthcare. She recorded her phone call with one of his D.C. staffers and sent it to WRAL after getting frustrated by the clear lack of empathy on the other end of the line.
"You’re saying that, if you can’t afford it, you don’t get to have it? That includes health care?" she asked the staffer in the recording.
"Yeah, just like if I want to go to the store and buy a new dress shirt, if I can’t afford that dress shirt, I don’t get to get it," he replied.
After Veals objected to his reasoning, the staffer replied, "Sounds like something you’re going to have to figure it out."
Although telling a cancer survivor at risk of losing her healthcare to simply “figure it out” in the midst of a deadly pandemic may seem uniquely cruel, this behavior is not without precedent.
For years, Tillis has been at the forefront of the fight to deny North Carolinians affordable healthcare. During his tenure as speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, he blocked a bill to expand Medicaid, which would have given healthcare to more than 500,000 low-income North Carolinians — and then bragged about it.
He then abruptly changed his mind about the issue during his 2014 U.S. Senate campaign — that is, at the exact moment when he could no longer do anything about it — when he sensed he was losing to incumbent Kay Hagan.
Clearly, the flip-flop worked, since he ended up winning that race.
Despite changing his mind on statewide Medicaid expansion, Tillis continued to campaign on repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act, calling the legislation a “cancer” on the economy.
In the middle of a pandemic that is ravaging our country and state, Tillis continues to show that he has no compassion for his constituents. Days after the phone call made national news, Tillis introduced a bill in the Senate to prevent any American manufacturer of a COVID-19 vaccine from distributing such a vaccine outside the United States until the domestic need for the vaccine had been met.
The bill, of course, contains no provision to make this vaccine affordable to all Americans, despite Tillis’ claim that he has worked to "protect the health and safety of North Carolinians” since the pandemic began. It is entirely unsurprising that Tillis would introduce a completely useless bill that has little likelihood of even getting a committee hearing instead of actually responding to the concerns of his suffering constituents.
In the six years since Tillis tanked the Medicaid expansion bill, many states have closed the Medicaid coverage gap. North Carolina is not among them, and the Republican majority in the state legislature seems unwilling to be the next. (Remember last year’s surprise late night budget veto override?)
Tillis directed a spokesperson to apologize for the insensitive phone call after bearing the brunt of national scrutiny, but in light of his record, his apology rings hollow.
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