President Donald J. Trump arrives in the House chamber and is greeted by members of Congress prior to delivering his State of the Union address Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

By Terry White

I attended the State of the Union on Tuesday as Sen. Mark Warner’s invited guest. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am grateful for the opportunity. I never expected to be in a room with the most powerful people in our government; however, it also helped me realize we need more regular people like me in those rooms.

Listening to President Donald Trump speak, I was disappointed and angry. President Trump’s vision for health care in America doesn’t include people like me. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act.

In 2008, I collapsed on the job working at the Newport News shipyard. I lost my health insurance and started drowning in medical debt. For my heart attack they billed me $26,000. Congestive heart failure, $27,000. Prostate cancer surgery, $71,000. Radiation treatment, $51,000. I couldn’t pay those bills. For 10 years, I struggled to get appointments with specialists, follow up on emergency room visits, and fill prescriptions. My health declined. I couldn’t work, lost my housing, and I was unable to be as active in my community as I wanted to be.

Last year, Medicaid expansion changed my life. Medicaid expansion made it possible for me to access preventative care and regular doctor visits. I am healthier and able to give back to my community. And I’m not the only one: Medicaid expansion provides health care coverage to almost 400,000 people in Virginia.

Sitting in the gallery, looking down at all of our senators and representatives, I wondered how many of them have experienced what I have. I wondered how many of them care.  When President Trump calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, he’s calling for me to lose my health coverage. He would rather score political points than worry about how regular folks will pay their bills and take care of their families.

Sadly, President Trump’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act aren’t the only thing that worried me at the State of the Union. His speech came just as the administration released the Medicaid block grant proposal that would cut benefits, and just a couple of weeks after Trump has said he would cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. He promised to protect these programs during his first campaign for president. One thing is clear: the administration’s proposals are bad news for all of us.

The block grant proposal released last week from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services is called the “Healthy Adult Opportunity” plan, but the flowery name doesn’t disguise its real purpose: to cut people from Medicaid and cut spending on the program. Under the new plan, states would be able to create all sorts of new enrollment barriers. For the first time, states would be able to restrict the drugs that Medicaid covers and the medical conditions it will cover. They could cap total enrollment in the program. States could also charge premiums and co-pays up to 5 percent of the participant’s income.

President Trump talked a lot about keeping America great. He talked a lot about how he wants to make people’s lives better. I don’t care what race you are, how much money you make, where you live — President Trump’s health care policies will hurt you or someone you know. I am grateful that I could hear everything he said with my own two ears. Now I’m even more fired up to fight to make sure we defend the Affordable Care Act, protect Medicaid and make sure everyone in this country has access to quality, affordable health care.

Terry White is a Chesapeake resident and leader in the Norfolk Chapter of Virginia Organizing.