KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Politicians in Arizona are in a tough spot in the debate over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Arizona is a red state. Hundreds of thousands of people there got coverage because of the law, but the state is also called the poster child for the ACA's failures. Will Stone of KJZZ in Phoenix reports.
WILL STONE, BYLINE: For years, shopping for health insurance went like this for Corinne Bobbie.
CORINNE BOBBIE: Sorry, we're not covering that kid. She's a liability.
STONE: That kid is Bobbie's 8-year-old daughter, Sophia. Hopping on a trampoline outside her home north of Phoenix, you'd never know about her complex congenital heart disease and multiple surgeries.
BOBBIE: She is a kid whose clock is ticking every day. But she goes to school. You know, she rides horses. She does everything a regular kid can do with a certain level of limitation.
STONE: Sophia's pre-existing condition kept Bobbie and her husband, who runs a sub shop, on a constant quest for coverage. And it cost them. They racked up debt, lost their home. Then the Affordable Care Act came along.
BOBBIE: For the first time in her life, we had a choice.
STONE: Arizona's marketplace was a success early on - lots of insurers, multiple plans, low premiums. But it didn't last. This past year, when she, her husband and son tried to buy insurance, they couldn't afford it.
BOBBIE: It's more disappointing to be so in favor of something but to have such animosity towards it at the same time. I'm pissed. I'm like, why can't I have insurance, too?
STONE: There was only one insurer to choose from, and the plan's much more expensive. Protected by the law and priced out by it, the Bobbies represent both sides of the ACA. And they should be the target audience for Republicans repealing the law. So how does she feel about them?
BOBBIE: They could be the hero. And instead it just became this nonsense.
STONE: And opponents of the repeal effort are tapping into this unease.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Congresswoman McSally just voted for a disastrous health care repeal bill.
STONE: Martha McSally is one of Arizona's moderate Republicans. And Democrats think she's vulnerable, says Jaime Molera, a GOP consultant.
JAIME MOLERA: They're trying to put her in league with the extreme, hardcore Republicans in Congress.
STONE: Molera says for her and Senator Jeff Flake, also up for re-election, it's a balancing act.
MOLERA: Between being aggressive in wanting to repeal Obamacare with the fact that there's a lot of components of it that people like.
STONE: Components like protections for pre-existing conditions and Medicaid expansion, which has covered more than 400,000 people here. The replacement bill would scale that back. Those cuts probably won't survive the Senate. And Molera says that could actually help Flake.
MOLERA: That affords him the opportunity to be more centrist in running against the Democrats.
STONE: Flake's likely to face the toughest re-election. But Democrats are even taking aim at those in safer districts, like conservative Congressman David Schweikert. Schweikert says the bill he voted for gives states flexibility to transform Medicaid even with less money, and it will improve the state's marketplace.
DAVID SCHWEIKERT: We can lower the price so much for that 50 percent that's healthy that they'll start to participate in the system.
STONE: The bill is expected to bring down some premiums, but prices could rise significantly for those who are older or have pre-existing conditions according to the Congressional Budget Office. Schweikert also points out the exodus of insurers from the marketplace in Arizona.
SCHWEIKERT: Today you're lucky we have one. Tomorrow you may have zero. So this is also trying to assemble something back together while running.
STONE: But the market is not necessarily in freefall, says Allen Gjersvig, whose nonprofit helps people sign up for plans.
ALLEN GJERSVIG: We believe that the two insurance companies that are covering Arizona will be back next year.
STONE: But we still don't know yet, he says.
GJERSVIG: The problem is the uncertainty for the insurance companies.
STONE: And uncertainty is also a problem for Corinne Bobbie. She says this has become a political game in which her family and others have been forgotten. She's already accepting that maybe this time next year...
BOBBIE: Nobody in this house will have insurance. And if that happens, it's going be real ugly around here.
STONE: And political fortunes here and across the country will depend on voters like her getting the care they need. For NPR News, I'm Will Stone in Phoenix.
MCEVERS: The story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KJZZ and Kaiser Health News.
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