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Texas guest at State of the Union is a staunch Obamacare supporter

By Maria Recio
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON It has been a long and difficult road for Jason Roberts, a former Democratic candidate for Texas’ 33rd Congressional District who found himself in Washington on Tuesday in a very different role: cancer survivor and champion of the Affordable Care Act.

Roberts, 39, of Oak Cliff, was selected to be the high-profile guest of the candidate who ultimately won the 2012 election, Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey, at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

“I know there are a lot more people like Jason out there,” said Veasey, whose district includes portions of neighboring Tarrant County and Dallas County.

Veasey told reporters in an interview in his office that his district has more uninsured – 265,000 people – than any congressional district in the country, according to the Census Bureau.

“The Affordable Care Act is improving the health care situation for millions of Americans,” he said, adding that as long as he can get the word out.

In a sharp contrast to Texas Republican lawmakers who want to terminate the health care law, Veasey is showcasing Roberts as an Obamacare success story. A small businessman who promotes improving urban cityscapes, Roberts was suddenly diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer in June 2012, shortly after the May primary that year.

By 2013, he had gone through chemotherapy, had a tumor removed and experienced complications, but was doing well except for one issue – insurance. Unable to work and newly divorced with two young children, he only had the extension of his insurance that he could pay for one year – the policy known as COBRA – when he went looking for alternatives under the Affordable Care Act.

“It took me minutes, literally minutes,” said Roberts, as he sat with Veasey in the lawmaker’s Cannon House Office Building suite. “It took me under an hour to review the plans and sign up.”

On the law’s website, HealthCare.gov, he enrolled in a Gold level plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, which was his insurer under COBRA. His monthly premium was cut almost in half, to $327 from $527, with a deductible of $1,500 and an out-of-pocket maximum of $3,500. Texas did not set up its own health care marketplace, or insurance exchange, as many other states did.

But the biggest selling point to Roberts and Veasey is that a patient with a pre-existing condition was able to get insurance.

“It gives me breathing room,” said Roberts, whose insurance otherwise would have run out in April. “You have options, finally. You didn’t have options before.”

As for being Veasey’s guest at the speech, he said, “I’m very excited. I was honored to be asked, very honored to view history.”

Email: mrecio@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @maria_e_recio
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