Ashton Romano is a young adult, but she remembers her anxiety as a teen, when she saw piles of medical bills her single mom's health insurance didn't cover for Romano's congenital neural tube defect and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome - a health condition Romano will deal with for the rest of her life.
Romano spoke Thursday at a Halloween-themed demonstration by local SEIU Healthcare PA medical workers in support of the Affordable Care Act outside the offices of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, who has voted repeatedly to defund the legislation.
Because of its extension of coverage to children until age 26 and its elimination of lifetime claim caps, the ACA has relieved Romano and her mother - an SEIU nurse at UPMC Altoona - of financial worries connected with Romano's conditions, they said.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
SEIU member Chris Horton of Altoona holds his John Boehner Speaker of the House cutout along Allegheny Street in Hollidaysburg.
Shuster is unapologetic.
"I will never stop opposing this onerous and burdensome law that is hurting hard-working families and businesses in the 9th District," he wrote in an email. "Over the course of the rollout, we have seen numerous issues with Obamacare. People are losing the health care coverage that they like and pay for, despite the president's numerous promises that they could keep their plans."
White-costumed unionists represented ACA beneficiaries, while black-costumed unionists - including one who held a stick-mounted Shuster mask - represented the law's opponents.
The unionists entered Shuster's office briefly to deliver a vase full of black roses trimmed with purple sparkles and the stems decorated with strips of paper bearing messages, including: "Listen to people who elected you," "ACA makes healthcare affordable," and "allows pregnant women to have insurance."
While Romano delivered her lengthy message from the steps leading to the front door of the building that Shuster's office is in, an employee of a professional who also rents space in the building motioned for her to move away from the entrance.
A little while later, someone reportedly representing the building owner announced, "This party's over. This is a private building."
A little while later, a borough police officer passing in a cruiser ordered the demonstrators, who by then were on the public sidewalk, to "keep moving."
After that, with the demonstration shifted to the sidewalk across Allegheny Street, one of the organizers frequently encouraged the demonstrators - who numbered about 16 - to keep walking, apparently to comply with the police order.
Anxiety over healthcare bills disrupted her sleep and her peace of mind as a youth, Romano said.
"It was not a normal stress," she said. "It felt overwhelming."
Those "out-of-pocket" bills were probably between $5,000 and $10,000, said her mother, Starr Romano.
Reaching the old cap - which was between $1 million and $1.5 million - was Starr's biggest worry.
If not for the ACA, the Romanos would probably have reached their coverage maximum by now, said Starr, who as a nurse, knew patients who reached their caps as a result of one life-altering event, like a car crash, she said.
When they did, they had to go on Medicaid, she said.
The unionists understand that the ACA is "not perfect," said Matt Miller, a certified nursing assistant at Valley View Rehabilitation Center and one of the demonstrators. "But it's a step forward," he said.
"Not perfect" won't do it for Shuster.
"This troublesome law must be repealed," he wrote.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038