Is the ACA perfect? No, but it can be mended

As Congress moves to repeal the Affordable Care Act, three registered nurses from Alaska talk about how they have seen the act work for patients in the communities where they live and work. The nurses, who are all members of the Alaska Nurses Association, agree that the ACA is not perfect but they are equally certain that it can be fixed. Read what they had to say in the letters to the editor they wrote to Alaska papers.

I have been a registered nurse for nearly 35 years and a resident of the Mat-Su Borough for over 30 of those. I know first-hand that the role our healthcare system plays is absolutely vital to the well-being of Alaskans. I strive every day to provide high-quality care to my patients, regardless of their background or their ability to pay, and regardless of the hurdles I face in the workplace. In my career, I’ve seen countless advances in medicine and worked through major healthcare reforms and policy changes — perhaps none so big as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Is the ACA perfect? Of course not. But eliminating the ACA without a plan for replacement spells disaster: millions of Americans suddenly will be uninsured, the cost of health insurance will increase, and hospitals will close. More importantly, losing coverage will create serious economic harm for working families in our communities. That’s a cost we can’t afford. One of the most important duties of a nurse is to be a patient advocate. So, I call on Congress: don’t throw our country’s healthcare system into uncertainty by repealing the ACA without a plan for replacement. As a nurse, I ask instead that you work to improve healthcare delivery, put patients first, and protect the health and economic security of American families. Mend it, don’t end it.

Jane Erickson, ADN, RN, CCRN, is the president of the Alaska Nurses Association.

Alaska is famous for our majestic mountains, our endless summer sunshine, and more than a handful of interesting characters. We’re also well known for ranking high on lists that no one wants to rank high on. We have the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country. We have the highest rates of sexual assault. We’re ranked number one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it comes to the cost of alcohol abuse. These are ugly blemishes on an otherwise beautiful state.

I’ve been a mental health nurse for 30 years. Before the Affordable Care Act, tens of thousands of Alaskans with mental health issues did not get the care they needed. Just a few years ago, a patient with a schizophrenia diagnosis was likely to be unable to obtain individual health insurance in our state. We had no state or federal regulation prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against patients based on their pre-existing conditions. For those who were accepted for coverage by insurers, premium rates could be hiked up drastically, and more than one-third of available plans didn’t even cover mental health treatment. At least one in five American adults experience mental health issues at some point in their lives.

The ACA may not be perfect, but countless Alaskans have benefited from its provisions addressing mental health care. If we ever want to fix our “ugly blemishes,” we need to make the mental health of Alaskans our priority. Gutting the ACA without a plan for replacement leaves far too many of our friends and neighbors without the care they desperately need. I hope Congress realizes that real lives are at stake here — and that we can’t afford the deadly consequences of a vote done in haste.

Arlene Briscoe, RN-BC Mental Health Nurse, is the vice president of Alaska Nurses Association.

My children deserve to live the healthiest life possible. My patients, my neighbors, my co-workers and people I don’t even know — we all deserve a chance to live the healthiest life possible.

One piece of living a healthy life is through affordable health care. The Affordable Care Act has given health care coverage to millions. It protected my friend from financial devastation when her child underwent care for a severe congenital heart condition. And it’s helped bring my patients’ health care and preventative screenings that they would otherwise have gone without.

I have been a Registered Nurse for nearly 20 years. I have worked in many health settings caring for those with cancer, mental illness, the elderly, the young and the poor. I have worked to try to find care for a low-income working man who had no insurance and no options to address his symptoms. I have held the hands of the dying when their cancer could have been treated if caught early through preventative screenings. I have seen patients forced to go without care because they couldn’t afford the care they needed, time and time again.

While the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, it does represent a vision — a vision of a country where health is a shared value, a right that we all have, that we all participate in and that we all fight to keep.

As a nurse, I will fight for this right for my patients. For the poor, the sick and the injured. I will also fight for the healthy — so they may stay healthy.

And so, I am calling on Congress to protect the right to affordable health care for all of us, not just some of us. For my patients, for my children, for my friends and neighbors. Please don’t repeal the ACA. Work to make it better, so that we all may share health as a value and a reality.

Sarah Hargrave, MS, is a member of the RN board of directors of the Alaska Nurses Association.