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Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' office is forced to apologize after a staffer told a cancer survivor 'you don't get to have' healthcare if you can't afford it

FILE - In this March 2, 2020, file photo Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks during a campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Charlotte, N.C. Tillis, facing a competitive North Carolina reelection contest, “is looking forward to campaigning" with Trump, Tillis' spokesperson said. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)
FILE - In this March 2, 2020, file photo Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks during a campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Charlotte, N.C. Tillis, facing a competitive North Carolina reelection contest, “is looking forward to campaigning" with Trump, Tillis' spokesperson said. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)
Associated Press
  • Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' office was forced to publicly apologize after a staffer dismissed a constituent's concerns about losing her health insurance amid the pandemic. 
  • North Carolina resident Bev Veals recorded a phone call she had with a Tillis staffer, who compared health insurance to a "dress shirt" and said "if you can't afford it, you don't get to have it." 
  • Tillis, who's facing a strong challenge in his bid for reelection this year, has voted several times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, without replacement legislation.
  • Millions of Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of pandemic-related job losses.
  • Visit Business Insider's 合约数字币和虚拟币homepage for more stories.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' office was forced to publicly apologize after a constituent released a recording of a conversation she had with a staffer who dismissed her concerns about losing her health insurance amid the pandemic. 

Bev Veals, a three-time cancer survivor, called her North Carolina senator's office recently to express her worries about not being able to afford her health insurance after her husband was furloughed.

"I wanted answers because the thought of having no healthcare and possibly getting sick with COVID is extremely frightening," Veals told local news outlet WRAL-TV. She said she's used her savings to pay for insurance recently. 

Veals recorded a conversation she had with a staffer in Tillis' Washington, DC office. 

During the exchange, Veals asked the staffer, "You're saying that, if you can't afford it, you don't get to have it, and that includes healthcare?"

"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 responded.

"But healthcare is something that people need, especially if they have cancer," she said.

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

Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Tillis, apologized on behalf of the staffer in a statement to WRAL and said he had been disciplined. 

"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 told WRAL the apology wasn't sufficient — she wants lawmakers to figure out how hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians can get the healthcare coverage they need. 

Tillis, who's facing a strong challenge in his bid for reelection this year, has voted several times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, without replacement legislation. Tillis has also helped prevent his state from expanding Medicaid under the ACA. Healthcare has become a key issue in the Senate race. 

The Trump administration in June asked the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, a move that would strip health insurance from 23 million Americans. Healthcare is consistently a top issue for most American voters and many political strategists view any effort by the GOP to repeal the ACA amid the coronavirus pandemic as politically dangerous for Republicans. 

Millions of Americans have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of pandemic-related job losses. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation determined that, as of July, about 27 million Americans had lost health insurance during the pandemic.

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