WRAL Investigates

Cancer survivor pleading for help with health insurance 'angry and hurt' over Tillis staffer's response

Posted September 8, 2020 4:18 p.m. EDT
Updated September 9, 2020 9:39 a.m. EDT

— A three-time cancer survivor who reached out to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis for help with her health insurance dilemma said that she got an insensitive response from a staffer instead.

"I’ve seen just about everything health care has to throw at a person," said Bev Veals of Carolina Beach.

Over the past 20 years, Veals beat cancer three times, and her fight included struggles to get care and medical bankruptcy.

When her husband was furloughed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Veals worried about losing her health insurance, so she reached out to lawmakers for help.

"I wanted answers because the thought of having no health care and possibly getting sick with COVID is extremely frightening," she said recently.

During Veals' calls, she came across a Washington, D.C., staffer for Tillis. Frustrated by his lack of empathy, she started recording her calls.

"You’re saying that, if you can’t afford it, you don’t get to have it, and that includes health care?" she asked.

"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," he replied.

"But health care is something that people need, especially if they have cancer," Veals said.

"Well, you got to find a way to get it," he responded.

When she asked the staffer what she's supposed to do, he said, "Sounds like something you’re going to have to figure it out."

"To compare it to a dress shirt made me incredibly angry and hurt," Veals told WRAL Investigates.

WRAL sent Veals’ video to Tillis’ office and requested an interview with the senator. Instead, spokesman Daniel Keylin sent a statement with an apology.

"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," Keylin said.

Veals said she wants more than an apology.

"We need our legislators to listen to us and help us solve this problem because it’s not just my problem – not being able to afford health care," she said. "It’s the problem of hundreds and thousands of North Carolinians."

Her family is tapping retirement savings to keep her insurance, while hoping her husband will be called back to his job, she said.

The left-leaning nonprofit Piedmont Rising, which is actively campaigning against Tillis over issues such as his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, reached out to Veals about her recordings and shared the video with WRAL Investigates.

Tillis’ office provided a follow-up response to the senator’s stance on Medicaid expansion:

"Senator Tillis believes it is critical we protect the health and safety of North Carolinians throughout this pandemic, which is why he has supported the [Trump] administration’s effort to require all Americans, regardless of their insurance status, to be able to receive treatment if they get COVID-19," the statement says. "Senator Tillis has also been pushing to guarantee that all Americans with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health care.

"When he was Speaker of the House [in North Carolina]," the statement continues, "Senator Tillis inherited a Medicaid program that was mismanaged and plagued with overspending and inefficiency. Expanding Medicaid at the time would have been a promise that the state wouldn’t have been able to keep, requiring cuts to the program that would have harmed patients that states like New York and California have already been forced to make. Instead, Senator Tillis worked to strengthen the state’s Medicaid program to deliver quality health care to patients, and the reason the North Carolina is in a position to discuss expansion is because of Senator Tillis’ leadership."

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