October 14, 2020 In the News

Swanzey resident with pre-existing conditions fights for Affordable Care Act

Keene Sentinel
By Mia Summerson
October 14, 2020

Gene Faltus has been battling a series of health conditions since the mid-1990s. Treatment for his ailments — ranging from cancer to cardiac conditions — has not been cheap.

The Swanzey resident has an implanted defibrillator — his sixth, he’s undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer, and has had multiple surgeries. Prior to 2010, he was close to reaching the limit under his insurance plan.

“I was running into the lifetime maximum, which existed before the Affordable Care Act,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had hit that magic lifetime maximum.”

Faltus says the Affordable Care Act, which former President Barack Obama signed into law a decade ago, has improved his access to health care and that he’s become a vocal supporter of the law. In fact, he’s been so dedicated to the protection of the Affordable Care Act that he’s become heavily involved with Democratic politics and was even featured at the virtual Democratic National Convention back in August.

On Tuesday morning, he participated in a news conference in Keene’s Central Square hosted by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s re-election campaign to discuss the importance of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. He was joined by former state senator Molly Kelly of Harrisville and Carl DeMatteo, a retired Cheshire Medical Center doctor who still works for the hospital part-time as a primary-care physician. DeMatteo is also chairman of the Cheshire County Democrats.

The news conference focused on comments made by Shaheen’s Republican opponent, Bryant “Corky” Messner, who New Hampshire Democrats have accused of denying the existence of pre-existing conditions. Faltus said he is proof that these conditions shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“Corky should walk in my shoes for just one day and tell people that my pre-existing conditions don’t matter,” Faltus said. “His comments were both a personal attack to me, as well as an affront to the people who have pre-existing conditions.”

In a clip from a recent debate, hosted by Valley Vision and the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council, between the two U.S. Senate candidates that was circulated by the N.H. Democratic Party, Messner refers to one of Sheheen’s advertisements. The ad states that half a million Granite Staters have pre-existing conditions, but he questions the accuracy of that figure.

“There may be 500,000 people that have a health condition for which they’re receiving medical attention,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a pre-existing condition.”

In the full video of the debate, just before the portion the Democrats have highlighted, Messner says “nobody should be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.”

“Let me be very clear: I currently oppose and will oppose any and all efforts to deny health care to an individual based on pre-existing conditions,” Messner said in a release issued by his campaign Tuesday afternoon. “That is and always has been my position, yet time and again, my opponent, Jeanne Shaheen, and her supporters mischaracterize that position for political gain.”

Messner’s comments, and the backlash from Democrats, come amid a backdrop of uncertainty about the future of the ACA, which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Just one week after the Nov. 3 general election, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the latest challenge to the law. With the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and an upcoming battle in the Senate over her prospective replacement — conservative appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett — supporters of the ACA are worried the law may be repealed.

Noting that he has worked around the country treating people via free clinics, DeMatteo said that accessing treatment is an issue for people with pre-existing conditions throughout the U.S. Like Faltus, he said he was upset by Messner’s comments.

DeMatteo recalled a 2018 listening session hosted by New Hampshire’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, where state residents weighed in on their health-care concerns.

“It was very evident to me that there are people all over New Hampshire who will be severely affected” if the ACA is struck down, DeMatteo said. “Both for their own personal health, their loved ones, children with special needs and people with chronic illnesses.”

Molly Kelly, who was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2018 but was defeated by Gov. Chris Sununu, said most Americans know someone who is struggling with a health issue that would be considered a pre-existing condition. She said she is worried about how many people would lose coverage, especially during a pandemic, if the ACA were repealed.

She also took aim at Messner, saying he was “denying the realities of half a million Granite Staters.”

Faltus says he’s been hard at work trying to tell anyone who will listen to support the ACA and to show that support at the ballot box. He said he’s knocked on some 4,000 doors during this campaign season, makes around a thousand calls weekly to discuss the health-care law with voters and has also been involved in volunteer training.

Even a recent cardiac issue didn’t take him out of commission for long, he said, explaining that he does all this because he wants to support candidates who will protect Americans’ access to medical care.

“A stopped heart won’t stop me,” he said with a laugh. “Health care is on the ballot this election.”