July 20, 2017

Repealing Obamacare isn’t the answer

Amanda is one of the tens of thousands (if not more) of Americans who risk losing their health care coverage and ability to treat chronic illness if Obamacare is repealed.

Imagine watching the leaders of our nation discuss their plans to take away one of the biggest things keeping you alive. That hypothetical is a serious reality that someone I love dearly has faced every single day for years.

My best friend, Amanda, has lived with a serious chronic illness for nearly a decade and now she has to watch members of the Republican Party discuss their plans to repeal – with no current plans for its replacement, if any – the Affordable Care Act, which is directly responsible for her continued existence. Before I continue, I’ll let Amanda tell her story in her own words:

In the fall of 2007 I was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable illness called Crohn’s disease. The disease is an autoimmune disease of the digestive system. It can cause inflammation, ulcers, joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, excruciating abdominal pain, and many cases require removal of the small or large intestine. I am one of the lucky few who have not required surgery. Yet.

I do, however, require an infusion of a medication called Remicade. According to the everydayhealth website, “the Food and Drug Administration has issued a black-box warning for Remicade because of the risk of serious, sometimes fatal, infections, such as tuberculosis, bacterial sepsis, invasive fungal infection, Listeria, and Legionnaire’s disease in patients receiving the drug.” Remicade also keeps me alive. As my “Plan D” in working toward remission, I am so thankful for this medication despite its high risks. This infusion occurs every eight weeks, and each one costs upwards of $15,000 without insurance.

Since I was diagnosed as a junior in high school, I found myself growing up faster than my peers. Having to worry about medical treatments, health insurance, getting called out of class to take pills… these things all put “adult” issues on my shoulders that my friends did not have. Graduating high school, the only way I was not kicked off my parent’s insurance was to go to college and continue being a student. While I always intended to pursue a college degree, after being diagnosed with Crohn’s it became a medical necessity. Even in college, the reality of my illness wore me down. As my peers were worried about what country they wanted to choose for their study abroad term, I was worried about where I could go that I could still get my treatments.

Flash forward to 2010, when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Suddenly this chronically ill college student was able to stay on her parents’ health insurance until age 26 – a literally life-changing event. Suddenly I would no longer be able to be turned down by insurers simply because I was already chronically ill at age 19. I no longer had to worry about where my health insurance coverage would come from or how long I could stay on my parents’. I didn’t have the weight of pursuing a degree that would get me a good enough job to get good health insurance. I suddenly had a massive weight off my shoulders; I could almost feel normal again.

As my future unfolded, I had this newfound freedom. I was free to move on after my AA degree to instead pursue my passion of running a business in photography. I had the freedom to move from Iowa to Colorado, and to remain covered with health care all the while. As someone who not so long ago would have been unable to afford those freedoms, I cannot express the amount of happiness that has brought me.

We move now into 2017, and the senate just voted 51 to 48 to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This has devastated me. As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I have no employer to give me health insurance coverage. Without the Affordable Care Act, insurers will have every right to deny me private coverage. This year I turn 26 and will be losing my current coverage.
While I had prepared for this eventuality by researching and preparing coverage options through my state’s marketplace for affordable health insurance, I now face the reality that this could be my last year with health insurance coverage. Without coverage, I face harsh realities including losing my treatments, long hospitalizations, inability to have children, and a high probability of death.

I say this not out of exaggeration. I say this not to get your pity. I say this on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who live every day with a chronic illness or disability. People in this country who, like me, face harsh realities that we did not face only a few days ago. For many Americans, the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare (for which they don’t currently have a replacement plan in place) might mean lower insurance premiums or deductibles (although, that’s actually up to the individual insurance companies), to the Americans like me living with chronic illnesses, it more likely means the difference between life and death.

First and foremost, the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect. While I may understand the individual mandate, I also get that there are many who don’t get it and don’t support the mandate. That’s fine. I also understand why so many people want individuals to be able to purchase insurance policies through other states’ marketplaces, where the policies may have more competitive prices. That’s fine. It’s fine to be upset at the rising costs of premiums and deductibles.

What’s not fine is repealing the only law prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions or putting “lifetime caps” on coverage.

Another great part of the ACA is that it makes birth control affordable or completely free for anyone. Last year, I chose to start using a form of long-acting reversible birth control in the form of a little plastic rod that now lives just below the skin on my left upper arm. This $3,000 medical device and procedure was covered nearly 100 percent by my insurance – I just had to pay a $7 office visit fee. Providing free or affordable birth control to everyone just makes sense on all fronts.

It’s also worth noting that it is the insurance companies themselves that set its premium prices and deductible costs. In 2014, the CEO of the health insurance company I’m covered under earned $3 million. I bet, even as the CEO of one of the largest insurers in Texas, he could have taken $2 million less and still have been fairly compensated for his work and relieved the financial strains on his clients (and probably other employees, too).

It’s painfully and almost hilariously clear that the only reason Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act is because it’s associated with Obama. Many of the “repeal and replace” –icans have already said they’re fine with keeping the protections for preexisting conditions and some of the other protections and elements in the ACA. What about amending it? Taking certain parts away and making other additions and changes. But, unfortunately for John Q. Public with his preexisting condition, that would be too logical for the Republicans.

On Thursday, Congressman Steve King, a Republican I will never understand how he keeps getting reelected in Iowa, told NPR that he believes if Obamacare is repealed and never replaced, we’d all be “far better off.” He also continued that he would argue “there is no constitutional – you have no right to a health insurance policy.”

Well, well, well, Mr. King. That’s where you’re wrong. Our own Declaration of Independence states three inalienable rights: to life, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness. What was that first one? Life. So King’s gonna sit here and tell Jane Doe, who’s dying from cancer and doesn’t have insurance to pay for treatment because the GOP repealed Obamacare and no one will insure her, that she has “no right to a health insurance policy” and therefore no right to life? I’m going to go ahead and argue that Jane’s and mine and yours and everyone else’s inalienable right to life trumps King’s inalienable right of the liberty to be a complete idiot.

Possibly the most offensive part of King’s NPR interview is this:

“If we guarantee people that we will – that there will be a policy issued to them regardless of them not taking the responsibility to buy insurance before they were sick, that’s the equivalent of waiting for your house is on fire and then buying property and casualty insurance. And that defeats the insurance concept of it, and it defeats the personal responsibility requirements necessary to have an efficient health care system.”

First, Steve, we’re talking about human lives here, not a crappy house.Second, what do you tell Jane Doe, who didn’t have insurance before she was diagnosed with cancer and now can’t find an insurer to cover her treatments? “Too bad, so sad. You should have thought of that before not having insurance”? Third, you’re completely disregarding an entire population covered by insurance through their employer. Without the ACA, if one loses their job, they lose their insurance and then have to go policy shopping. If they happen to get sick either while they were covered under the employer’s policy or after they lost that coverage, they’re now at risk for being denied coverage from anyone else they may apply for a policy through. But, according to Steve King, that’s their own fault for being irresponsible.

Photo courtesy of Amanda H.
Amanda receives one of her bi-monthly Remicade infusions to treat Crohn’s Disease, a chronic illness covered by health insurance because of protections by the Affordable Care Act.

Right now, if Obamacare is repealed, we’re looking at nearly 10 million Americans at risk of losing their insurance. If even just five percent of that group has a preexisting condition, that means 500,000 people who really, really need insurance coverage could lose it. And probably at least a fifth of that group has a chronic and/or terminal illness that’s expensive to treat. That’s at least 100,000 human lives that will probably be lost because of the arrogance and ignorance of the Republican Party.
My best friend is in this fraction of the population likely to lose their coverage and ability to pay for expensive medical treatments.

The President-Elect has previously spoken about his idea for creating health savings accounts, which sounds great on paper, but not so much in practice. It would be great for me to start an HSA, knowing that many of the women in my family have been diagnosed with breast cancer and cervical cancer later in life. That gives me decades to save to pay for treatments if and when that happens to me. But for Amanda, who was just a high school student, how will an HSA help her? How is she supposed to “save” for medical expenses for a chronic illness she’ll be treating constantly for her entire life? Should she have started saving with her first piggy bank as a pre-schooler? Exactly how much should she have saved for her health care in those first 16 years of life?
It’s probably pretty obvious by now that I’m a pretty liberal person. Often, conservatives like to paint liberals as selfish and lazy crybabies who are just looking for a handout. While I admit I occasionally whine about stupid things, I’m far from lazy – working more than 40 hours a week at my full-time job, while working on other projects in my free time.

For me, paying higher insurance premiums and deductibles is worth keeping my best friend alive and in reasonably good health. Honestly, I don’t even care if my neighbors or my Starbucks barista or the guy who rotates the tires on my car have to pay higher insurance premiums and deductibles, as long as it means I get to keep my best friend. I guess you could call that selfish.
Repealing Obamacare isn’t the answer to anything. It’s really just the highest level of selfishness and arrogance that motivates Republicans to move to repeal. It’s insulting for them to continue pretending they care about Americans while they take away their lifelines.

Kelby Wingert
Kelby Wingert 8 Articles
Staff Writer

Kelby spent the first 18 years of her life living in the “Dirty” Fort Dodge, Iowa. She started her college career at Coe College, but finished it at THE Iowa State University. After a short pit stop in Wilmington, North Carolina, as a photojournalist, she ended up in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas, at a military newspaper on Fort Hood. She’s now “faking it ‘til she makes it” as a sports writer covering a lot of high school football, but still does the whole photography thing a lot. She hates professional sports, loves tacos and lives for college basketball. Kelby is bad at writing headlines, so sorry about that, y’all.

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