Politics

Kennedy Intern Hopes Her Story Is a Factor in Health Care Debate

Jen Fox credits law with helping her overcome Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice

Jen Fox speaks of her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as her boss Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III listens. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

During a markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the Republican bill to replace President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III criticized the legislation by saying it was not an act of mercy but rather “an act of malice.”

Jen Fox, 25, one of the Massachusetts Democrat’s interns, was there for part of the 24 hours that the bill was being dissected. She said she wouldn’t have been, if not for the 2010 law.

Fox, who is from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, has beaten back Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice in the last six years.

“I had it when I was 19 and I had chemo and radiation,” she said Friday in Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office. “Then I was OK for a little over a year, and I was rediagnosed a day after my 21st birthday.”

She would need a stem cell bone marrow transplant after the cancer returned.

Fox was first diagnosed in 2011, a year after the passage of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. She worried she would lose her health insurance under her parents’ plan if she left school to undergo chemotherapy.

“And I was like, ‘How am I going to do chemotherapy and go to school?’” she said. “But then my dad ended up telling me that the Affordable Care Act makes it so you can stay on until you are 26. So I was able to focus on getting better.”

After the transplant, Fox’s bills totaled more than $2 million. She would have maxed out on her insurance’s lifetime cap before she relapsed. But the 2010 law prohibited caps on annual and lifetime benefits.

“The fact they lifted lifetime caps was really important to me being able to get the care that I needed,” she said. And Fox said she no longer has to worry about pre-existing conditions.

“For the rest of my life, I have a pre-existing condition,” she said.

Fox has since earned an associate degree from MassBay Community College and is now working on her bachelor’s at George Washington University.

Kennedy says that instead of scrapping the 2010 health care law, lawmakers should focus on fixing what’s not working and keeping what is. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Kennedy says that instead of scrapping the 2010 health care law, lawmakers should focus on fixing what’s not working and keeping what is. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Kennedy first heard Fox’s story when she interned in a district office in Massachusetts and was driving him back from an event.

The three-term lawmaker has made it a point to speak about Fox’s experience while discussing health care policy and how a repeal of the law as well as its proposed replacement will hurt those who have gotten or kept their health care coverage because of it.

Last month, he invited Fox as his guest to President Donald Trump’s joint session address to Congress, saying it was important to show that as the president made repealing the law part of his speech, there were those who felt the opposite.

“I thought it was important to highlight that and provide Jen the opportunity to tell her story,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said hearing over and over during the GOP bill markup about how the health care law was adversely affecting people frustrated him.

“I hear those stories and I accept those stories. I don’t think my colleagues are making them up,” Kennedy said. “However, as they continue to try to vilify what the Affordable Care Act has done, I find it very difficult to square that rhetoric with having Jen and the millions of other people like Jen who have benefited from this law.”

Fox said she is interested in getting into health policy or communications.

“Something that is really fascinating to me is the way that people perceive Obamacare … and just generally communicating with constituents,” she said.

Fox said she’s concerned that the benefits of the current health care law aren’t being considered in the proposed GOP repeal and replace bill. Republican leaders have planned a vote on it for Thursday.

“I think that the health care bill has been working for a lot of people and I think that’s not even part of the conversation,” she said. 

And even if the replacement measure retains some of the provisions she benefited from, Fox said that “the way they’re trying to strip out so much money out of Medicaid, it’s just — I’m scared.”

Kennedy said stories like Fox’s should be motivation to fix the law rather than scrap it.

“Yes, there might be some challenges with it, but if you actually put your shoulder into it, you can make this law work and the stories when you make this law work are stories likes Jen’s,” he said. “Why would we all not want that story to tell?”

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