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10 years after her story helped pass the Affordable Care Act, Medina woman can't believe it could be undone

SCOTUS hears latest 'Obamacare' challenge
Posted at 4:41 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 18:50:19-05

MEDINA, Ohio — As the U.S. Supreme Court considers again the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the woman who found herself in the middle of the fight to pass watches on from Medina County. It was a little over a decade ago when Natoma Canfield, a cancer survivor took a chance and wrote a letter voicing her concerns with the healthcare system. She told the president how she had to drop her health insurance because she could no longer afford the premiums which had just jumped 40% after jumping 25% the year before.

The fear she shared with the president was of getting sick and losing her family home. The president not only saw her letter, but he interrupted a meeting of insurance executives at the White House and read Natoma's letter to them, a move that generated national attention and thrust Natoma Canfield into the national spotlight.

Then-president Obama reads Canfield's letter during a meeting with health insurance executives.

"My brain is pretty well fried today. I'm just so overwhelmed," Canfield told News 5 that night in March 2010.

It would generate so much attention over the next week that the White House would decide to take their push for the Affordable Care Act to Northeast Ohio, but when administration officials tried to reach Natoma to have her join the president, they weren't able to reach her; nobody knew where she was. It would turn out she was in the hospital when the president would tell the crowd he came to town.

Canfield in the hospital in 2010.

"Doctors performed a battery of tests and on Saturday, Natoma was diagnosed with leukemia," then-President Obama said.

Canfield quickly became the face of Obamacare with her story — a rallying cry for the passing of the landmark legislation. Looking back ten years later, Canfield said a lot of it is a blur.

"Everything happened so fast," she recalled. "If you were going to write this in a novel, no one would ever believe it because there were so many twists and turns and every time the phone rang something changed, whether it was my health or the president or the hospital calling, it was an amazing blur."

When the Affordable Care Act passed and was signed into law, Canfield was in the Cleveland Clinic unable to attend, her sister Connie standing in her place behind the president as he signed the legislation. When the Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, President Obama told the nation of the role Natoma played.

"I carried Natoma’s story with me every day of the fight to pass this law. It reminded me of all the Americans, all across the country, who have had to worry not only about getting sick, but about the cost of getting well," Obama said.

Since then, the ACA would survive a challenge in Congress and faces yet another in the newly reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court.

"Ah this is just disgusting,” Canfield said Tuesday. “Can you imagine during a pandemic turning healthcare away, I can't believe it's come to this."

Her hope is that because there are so many people who would be impacted by a decision to repeal that they would step up. They're out there, she says, because she herself still hears from them.

"It's still important, there's so many people, but they're quiet people, you know, they're not the kind that, they're not people that want to make a big fuss, they can't believe it might be taken away from them.”

Canfield would eventually travel to Washington at the president's invitation to see the letter she wrote framed and hanging on the wall of the Oval Office, and she still keeps in touch with the man she sent it to a decade ago.

Canfield still stays in touch with former President Obama.

"I had gotten in contact reminding him that it was our ten year anniversary and I hadn't forgotten, and of course he said he had not either and he called to see how I was and was sorry I had just been through a round of more hospital stays," Canfield said of the former president. "Just a caring person."

Another thing Mr. Obama shared with Natoma was the fact that her letter that once hung in the Oval Office, still hangs today in his private office.