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I had cancer as a kid. Trump threatening Obamacare makes me sick all over again.

Health care is expensive. Nobody denies that. But former President Donald Trump's threat to end the Affordable Care Act wouldn't do anything to address that problem.
Image: Former US President Barack Obama signs the healthcare insurance reform
Then-President Barack Obama, surrounded by lawmakers and supporters, signs the health care insurance reform legislation during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 23, 2010. Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

As a survivor of childhood cancer, I’m quite used to feeling sick. However, I felt a different kind of sick last week when former President Donald Trump vowed, as he has so many times before, to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. Trump tried and failed when he was president to get rid of President Barack Obama’s most significant accomplishment. “The cost of Obamacare is out of control, plus, it’s not good Healthcare. I’m seriously looking at alternatives,” Trump wrote on his social media platform.

Trump isn’t promising anything that would bring prices down; he’s only scaring families like mine.

My family can attest: Health care is too expensive — for everybody. However, Trump isn’t promising anything that would bring prices down; he’s only scaring families like mine.

In 2004, when I was 4 years old, my pediatrician, who was concerned that I wasn’t growing like I should, ordered bloodwork. That test revealed that I was anemic. Then, after my skin turned to a pale yellow, my parents got the diagnosis that floored them: I had childhood leukemia.

A 4-year-old Gabrielle Marullo soon after her diagnosis with childhood leukemia.
A 4-year-old Gabrielle Marullo soon after her diagnosis with childhood leukemia.Courtesy of Gabrielle Marullo

The thought of burying their youngest child devastated my parents, but they shared a brief sigh of relief when the doctors said I had a good chance of surviving. 

Then, the bills started arriving. 

My mom and dad, both 44 then, ‌worked respectively as an MRI tech/medical biller and as a New Orleans firefighter. They had a decent savings account. However, my mountain of medical bills destroyed them financially and decimated their savings. They were left with terrible credit scores that suggested that they’d been irresponsible when, really, they’d done nothing but make sure that I, their sick child, got treatment.

The writer in late 2007 or early 2008 with her mom, Wendy, and dad, Dean, on a blood donation truck
The writer in late 2007 or early 2008 with her mom, Wendy, and dad, Dean, on a blood donation truckCourtesy of Gabrielle Marullo

Six years later, after I had gone into remission, Congress passed the ACA. Having seen the financial duress my parents had been put under, I understood even then how important this legislation would be to families like mine — families caught up in the ongoing crisis of rising health care costs and the threat of being denied insurance altogether in the face of grave diagnoses. 

Between 2004 and 2007, there were many times that my parents dragged me out of bed and rushed me to the emergency room in the middle of the night because, as everyone who has lived through childhood cancer knows, a temperature more than 100.4 degrees demands emergency care.

On top of already feeling terrible, upon our arrival, I would watch my parents pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket. I was only a child, and cancer was not anything I could’ve avoided, but that part always made me feel worse. It made me feel less like a human and more like a problem. 

Trump isn’t wrong to say that health care is expensive but, because my cancer came before the existence of the ACA, I can also attest that the high cost of health care isn’t the fault of the legislation. Health care costs were high and rising before that landmark legislation. For families who get the frightening news like my parents got in 2004, the ACA may be their only chance to have insurance, without which they or their loved one couldn’t get treatment.

Perhaps most importantly, the ACA means that a cancer I had when I was 4 won’t mean that I can’t get health insurance as an adult. But Trump talks about the ACA as though the law itself is hurting me more than being denied health insurance would.

I would watch my parents pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Cancer was not anything I could’ve avoided, but that part always made me feel worse. It made me feel less like a human and more like a problem.

No, Obamacare didn’t solve the problem of Americans suffering from medical debt. In 2021, the Commonwealth Fund found that Americans then had an estimated $88 billion in medical debt and that medical debt was the largest source of debt for Americans. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, says that medical debt causes around 500,000 Americans to go bankrupt every year. According to Yahoo Finance, tens of thousands of Americans are turning to crowdfunding sites each year in a last-ditch effort to prevent their medical debts from driving them into bankruptcy.

“Well,” my mom would say as she stared down one massive bill after another, “they can’t eat us.” Even so, almost 20 years later, the debt for my cancer treatment is still eating away at my parents' credit scores.

A solution would be to transition from our current privatized health care system to the kind of universal, government-funded system that’s common around the world, more cost effective, generally leads to better health outcomes and doesn’t leave families shouldering such a heavy financial burden.

But, I know that that isn’t one of the “serious alternatives” Trump is allegedly looking at. His getting rid of the ACA wouldn’t address the high costs of health care or high medical debt; he’d just be getting rid of the health insurance some of us might not otherwise have.