The Slatest

Thom Tillis Staffer Tells a Cancer Survivor to Not Get Health Coverage if She Can’t Afford It

“Just like if I want to go to the store and buy a new dress shirt.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the most-discussed health issue in this year’s presidential election has been President Donald Trump’s bungling of the federal response to the outbreak and whether Democratic nominee Joe Biden can fix it.

But a heated exchange between a North Carolina woman and a staffer from Sen. Thom Tillis’ office shifted the focus back to the everyday health care woes many Americans experience: What am I going to do if I lose my health insurance?

During a recent call with the staffer, which was recorded and is now circulating widely, a frustrated Bev Veals, who has survived cancer three times, asked several variations of that question and was met with nonchalance.

“You’re saying that, if you can’t afford it, you don’t get to have it—and that includes health care?” said Veals, a three-time cancer survivor.

“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,” said the staffer.

“But health care is something that people need—especially if they have cancer.”

“Well, you got to find a way to get it.”

But many Americans struggle to find health care that they can afford. Health care coverage, along with out-of-pocket costs, is a primary concern for voters this election cycle. Veals’ husband was furloughed in March, she told WRAL, the local outlet that broke the news, and she’s been worried about losing her health care coverage ever since—especially considering the risk of COVID-19 for someone who has survived cancer. Veals’ family has been relying on retirement funds to maintain her coverage.

Veals’ concerns are not unique to her. At least 27 million Americans have lost their health care coverage in the pandemic’s economic fallout, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. A separate study conducted by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that more than 10 million Americans won’t have employer-sponsored health coverage by the end of the year due to a pandemic-related job loss. If someone uninsured were to get sick with COVID-19, the health care costs would be astronomical should they end up hospitalized.

The future of health care in America was already on the line this election. But as more Americans bear the economic brunt of the pandemic, actions like that of Tillis’ staffer won’t bode well for Republicans facing a tough reelection like, well, Tillis.

Tillis’ office confirmed the video’s legitimacy to WRAL and issued an apology.

For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.