Bev Veals is the North Carolina cancer survivor who was told by a staffer for Senator Thom Tillis that if she couldn’t afford health insurance, then she couldn’t have it. Veals recorded the phone call and shared it with WRAL-TV in Raleigh.
Veals had called the senator’s office to ask for guidance amid the coronavirus pandemic. Her husband had been furloughed from his job and Veals was concerned they could lose their health insurance. The staffer, who was not publicly identified, was heard telling Veals that she and her husband would just have to “figure it out.”
The staffer has been disciplined, a Tillis spokesperson told WRAL-TV. Heavy has reached out to the senator’s office for further comment.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Tillis Staffer Compared Health Insurance Access to Buying a Dress Shirt
As Veals searched for guidance on how best to navigate the health insurance predicament, she connected with a staffer who worked at Tillis’ office on Capitol Hill. She explained to WRAL-TV that she started recording the phone call because she was “frustrated by his lack of empathy.”
The TV station published portions of the call on September 8. Veals was heard asking the man, “You’re saying that, if you can’t afford it, you don’t get to have it, and that includes health care?”
He responded, “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.”
Veals sounded stunned by his answer. She insisted that health insurance was not something that could be compared to shopping for an item in a store because “health care is something that people need, especially if they have cancer.”
The staffer answered that Veals and her husband would simply need to “find a way to get” health insurance. Veals told WRAL-TV she felt “angry and hurt” by the staffer’s response. She added that the family is using retirement savings to pay for health insurance right now.
2. A Spokesperson for Tillis Called the Staffer’s Language ‘Completely Inappropriate’
Tillis has not publicly commented about the phone call with Veals. But a spokesperson for his office, Daniel Keylin, said the staffer in question has been disciplined.
Keylin told WRAL-TV in a prepared statement, “The way Mrs. Veals was talked to by a staff assistant in our Washington office was completely inappropriate and violates the code of conduct Senator Tillis has for his staff, which is why immediate disciplinary action has been taken.” The senator’s office later reiterated that Tillis supports efforts to ensure anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 can receive treatment regardless of insurance status.
Heavy has reached out to the senator’s office for more information about how the staffer was disciplined. We also specifically asked whether Tillis agreed with the sentiment that Veals and her husband would need to “figure it out” if they lost their health insurance. The statement provided to WRAL-TV condemns the language the staffer used but does not explicitly comment on the message the staffer conveyed. We have not yet heard back.
3. Veals is an Artist & Her Husband Worked in Sports Broadcasting
Veals has beaten cancer three times, according to the non-profit group Piedmont Rising. The organization has been lobbying against Tillis, who is up for re-election in November. Piedmont Rising highlighted Veals’ case on its website and dismissed the reaction from the senator’s office in a news release: “Not only does Thom Tillis vote against health care access for North Carolinians, but he couldn’t even bother to help a three-time cancer survivor in his state when she needed help most… An insincere apology now doesn’t excuse a career spent trying to put health care out of reach for people who desperately need it.”
Veals, a painter, used artwork to help her through her cancer battle. She explained on her website:
Art is a spiritual connection for me in my fight against cancer. I do not consider it a business. Rather, I consider it an extension of my heart and soul as I fight and mend from a disease that thinks it has no boundaries. My brush strokes take back those boundaries.
Veals’ husband, Scott, has worked in sports broadcasting. According to his Twitter bio, Scott Veals worked as an “EVS operator (slow motion replays) for NASCAR on FOX & NFL on FOX.” He showed support for his wife’s decision to speak about by sharing the WRAL-TV segment on his Facebook page. He wrote, “Bev’s causing good trouble folks. Look out.”
4. More Than Half of Americans Rely on Employers for Health Insurance, According to Census Data
Veals’ situation has become a common one due to COVID-19. More than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic struck the United States in earnest in March. Yahoo Finance, citing government data, reported that 881,000 Americans filed for jobless benefits for the first time during the last week of August.
This trend directly corresponds to health insurance concerns nationwide. According to Census Bureau data, an estimated 55 percent of Americans received health insurance coverage through their employers in 2018.
More than five million workers lost their health insurance between February and May, according to a study from Families USA, after being laid off from their jobs. The non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation has predicted this number could skyrocket. The group’s vice president, Larry Levitt, told CBS News in early August that as many as 27 million Americans were at risk of losing their health insurance due to COVID-19.
5. Tillis Previously Called the Affordable Care Act a ‘Cancer’ Before Introducing a Bill to Cover Pre-Existing Conditions in 2019
Tillis referred to the Affordable Care Act as a “cancer” when he was running for the Senate in 2014 against then-incumbent Kay Hagan, a Democrat. According to the Daily Beast, Tillis’ campaign website included the following language at the time:
ObamaCare is a cancer on our national economy and it threatens the quality of every American’s health care. ObamaCare is ridden with policies that are bad for families, bad for seniors, bad for businesses, and bad for the economy. Thom will fight in the Senate for full repeal of ObamaCare, for defunding ObamaCare, and he will work to implement private sector solutions to reduce healthcare costs for North Carolinians.
Tillis has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act several times since he has been in the Senate, a fact challenger Cal Cunningham noted in a recent campaign ad. Tillis also blocked Medicaid expansion while serving as the Speaker of the House in North Carolina, the News & Observer reported. Expanding Medicaid eligibility was a key component of the ACA.
But in the years since, Tillis has changed his stance on certain provisions with the ACA. He and several other GOP lawmakers introduced a bill in 2019 called the Protect Act, which would ensure coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions. As the Daily Beast reported, Tillis acknowledged that his bill replicated portions of the ACA during an appearance in Asheville: “Pre-existing conditions is critically important to protect. So, I introduced the bill — it literally took lines out of the Affordable Care Act.”