The Republicans just introduced a new plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, or ACA — aka Obamacare. The rollout came after many members of Congress caught an earful from constituents trying to stop them.
Although I’ve voted for people in both parties in the past, I wanted to be one of them.
Residents in my central Ohio district started a petition in early January calling for our member, Republican Pat Tiberi, to hold a town hall to discuss the issue. After all, he’s the chair of the House Subcommittee on Health.
The petition quickly garnered over 1,000 signatures, but Tiberi refused to hold a public event, claiming they’re “unproductive.” Fair enough: I can see how it might be hard to have a discussion about complex issues in a hall filled to the brim with angry constituents.
So I decided to take Tiberi up on his offer to meet with constituents privately instead. When I arrived at his district office, I was surprised to find that eight other people had also been scheduled for the same time. It turned out that all of us were there to discuss the ACA.
Person after person shared gut-wrenching stories.
One woman was unable to find an insurer to cover her small business and its employees because of her Type 1 diabetes. Thanks to Obamacare, she was able to get coverage that’s affordable and life-saving.
A young woman recovering from cancer explained how, before Obamacare, her diagnosis prevented the entire company she worked for from changing insurers because the new insurer wouldn’t accept her “pre-existing condition.”
Another woman with breast cancer explained that if it weren’t for the subsidized health insurance she received through the Obamacare exchange, she might not be here today.
My own story is much less dramatic — without the ACA, I never could’ve afforded to pursue my chosen career path in the nonprofit sector. Luckily, the ability to stay on my parents’ insurance for a few years after college gave me the security I needed to take a risk on a low-paying but highly rewarding job that kick-started my career.
While Tiberi started out the meeting by declaring that he was “there to listen,” I left disappointed by how he treated our group. Not once during the entire meeting did he allow someone to finish speaking without interrupting to “give them the other side of the story.”
For many of the people in the room, Obamacare was literally the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, Tiberi only wanted to talk about how premiums are going up and in some places there aren’t enough coverage options.
To be sure, these are real problems that need fixing. But how can you look a breast cancer survivor in the eye and tell her the law that saved her life needs to be thrown out because it’s costing someone too much money?
My meeting with Tiberi took place well before Republicans released their Obamacare replacement plans, but even then Tiberi agreed that he doesn’t want to go back to 2009, when 20 million fewer people had health insurance.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to many people under the Republicans’ plan. That includes low-income patients on Medicaid and people who are young but have serious health conditions, like the woman at my meeting.
Someone recently asked me whether I consider myself a liberal or a conservative on healthcare. But what does that even mean?
We all want the same thing: affordable coverage we can actually use, lower costs, and a healthier population. I don’t think the ACA achieved all of these goals, but getting coverage for over 20 million people was a huge step in the right direction.
Why tear down years of progress and start from scratch when we can simply fix what we have?
OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online — all it takes is a simple attribution to OtherWords.org. To get a roundup of our work each Wednesday, sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.