The Affordable Care Act: The Time to Act to #ProtectOurCare is NOW

Early Thursday morning, the Senate narrowly voted in favor of the budget resolution that opens the gate for repealing the Affordable Care Act (which, to be clear, is the same thing as Obamacare). Rand Paul was the only Republican to break party line and vote against repeal along with all the Democrats. This occurred in the midst of what’s called a vote-a-rama, basically a swift and furious voting process in which senators can add as many amendments to the budget resolution as they want. Why was this important? Well, in the process, Democratic senators got Republicans on record as voting against protecting Medicare and Medicaid, protecting rural hospitals, protecting folks with pre-existing conditions from the healthcare discrimination they faced in pre-ACA days, protecting women’s healthcare, permitting children under 26 to stay on their parents’ plans, among others. Basically, if you’re a child, a young adult, a woman, someone with a pre-existing condition, a senior citizen, or a veteran, things are sadly not looking very good. Next time you hear a Republican say that of course their replacement plan, whatever it turns out to be, will ensure that individuals with pre-existing conditions will have guaranteed access to quality and affordable healthcare coverage, don’t be so quick to believe them. It seems that political expediency rules the day, regardless of the millions of people direfully harmed as a result. And we’ve now seen that Republicans have numbers and party unity on their side. So this is real. This is urgent. And the time to act is right now. Seriously, go call your representatives right now. I’ll wait.

All of this is happening via what’s known as the reconciliation process. What happens next? The budget resolution goes to the House for a vote, which could happen tomorrow (Friday). And then that resolution instructs committees in the House and Senate to craft repeal legislation by January 27th. That’s just over two weeks out. And that’s when the critical repeal vote will take place. Remember those five Republicans who wanted to push the date until March 3rd? Senator Corker, one of the five, decided to withdraw that amendment. Of course, Republicans still have no consensus replacement, and barring some wildly unforeseen circumstance, they’re not going to find one that’s better than the ACA. It’s just impossible to cover as many people as thoroughly as the ACA does without the unpopular measures like the individual mandate. Providing healthcare costs money. That’s simply how it works.

As a person who has lived with numerous chronic autoimmune illnesses since I was a young child, and has picked up others since then because apparently, why not, the Republican vote to start the clock on the repeal of the ACA hit me like a blow to the gut and a slap in the face simultaneously. Let me tell you that that’s a highly unpleasant experience, to put it extremely mildly. It feels like a referendum on me and on people like me. So what if you had the misfortune to be diagnosed with a chronic disease as a child? Too bad. What the Republican vote says to me is that I, and people like me, are expendable. We do not matter. Our humanity does not matter. Our lives do not matter. Our health does not matter. Our aspirations do not matter. What we have to give does not matter. And why? Because we’re too expensive to care for and place a burden on society. What a wonderful way to start 2017.

And I am not alone. What if you’re an elderly person who’s worked your entire life, but expended your life savings on assisted living and now has to go on Medicare? What if you don’t work for an agency or company that provides health insurance, like these musicians, or, for that matter, like many freelancing young adults nowadays? What if you’re a woman who can’t afford higher premiums as used to be the case simply because you happen to be female? If Republicans dismantle the ACA, we’re looking at millions of completely avoidable untreated illnesses and deaths, exponentially increasing hospital costs, and, since healthcare constitutes an eighth of our economy, a devastating economic impact. Sickness, death, unemployment…and all because partisanship apparently overrides concern for people. Key to note is that the uninsured rate is the lowest it’s ever been. Yes, the ACA is imperfect, but it’s a starting point that we can improve over time. To scrap it entirely is wildly irresponsible, dangerous, and heartless.

You may also have heard Senator Cory Booker being vilified because of a vote against importing drugs from Canada. Let’s just say that you heard a highly skewed version of that story. Booker, who bravely decided to testify against Senator Jeff Sessions because of his fears regarding Sessions’ record on voting rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights, voted against importing cheap drugs from Canada because those importations wouldn’t meet basic safety standards, as he indicated in a statement to Jezebel (scroll to the bottom of the article to read it). Fair warning here, I don’t speak legalese, but in my opinion voting to ensure that our medications are safe may be unpopular, but it is vital. I certainly want to know that any medications I take are regulated for safety. And I don’t want to see the creation of a precedent that our medications don’t have to meet specific and rigorous safety regulations. Voting against safety regulations in one case sets the record for others. It’s a slippery slope. As a person who takes numerous prescription drugs and has since a very young age, I personally applaud Senator Booker for taking the unpopular stance and making sure that our medications are and remain safe.

What to do now? Call your senators and congressperson. Keep calling, every single day. Tell them how much the ACA matters to you and to millions of Americans. Tell them the devastating human toll that repealing the ACA will take. Tell them that you say no to a vote that weighs and measures human life, placing a value on those lives that are worth maintaining and those that are not, social Darwinism at its finest. Write letters to the editor. Go to rallies. Participate in the Day of Action on January 15th. We owe this to the millions of people whose health and lives lie in the balance.