Around the country, seniors, low-income folks and those with certain pre-existing conditions are holding their breath to see what a small group of U.S. senators do with its version of the American Health Care Act – the GOP’s replacement for Obamacare. Despite being 23, financially stable and in above-average health, I am among those anxious few.
I have Obamacare and I cannot afford to lose it.
When I was 10 years old, I experienced a weird tingling sensation in my arms and legs that only went away when I sprinkled cold water on them. It was eosinophilic granuloma, a fancy medical term for a tumor of the bones. This tumor was in a vertebra at the very top of my neck, and the pressure from it was slowly paralyzing me from the neck down. I was told that within a year or two my spine would basically just collapse, and I’d never walk again.
It sounds like a sad story, and for a while it was. My father missed the birth of my youngest brother to stay with me at Duke University’s Pediatric Cancer Ward. He spent my birthday beating me at board games. After seeing a handful of doctors, I opted against radiation, choosing instead to wear a neck brace for a year in an attempt to relieve pressure on my spine. Though this ugly neck brace was horrifying for a fashion-conscious middle schooler, the therapy worked. The benign tumor stopped growing and I eventually received a clean bill of health. I was extremely lucky.
However, my rare condition scared off insurance companies. Most refused to include me when it came time for them to renew our family plan; one agreed to do so, for an additional $1,700 a month. So for six years as a teen, I went without coverage.
Still, I had a fairly normal childhood, my tumor a thing of the past. I played sports and even received a full athletic scholarship to play Division 1 college volleyball. I was accepted to Duke for graduate school – the same institution that helped me overcome my childhood health troubles would hopefully also help me earn a master’s degree. The story should have a happy ending; with the ACHA, that may not be the case.
Under the health care plan endorsed by the House of Representatives, insurance companies will be able to charge me whatever price they choose, despite my having done nothing to bring on my disease, despite being in perfect health for the past 13 years and despite being a good, contributing, tax-paying member of society.
Lawmakers who support AHCA might say those with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage. That’s true. But the legislation does not say anything about coverage I can actually afford. If an insurance company thinks I’m too risky to insure, they can say, “Hey, Ashley, we will insure you – for $1,700 a month.” The new bill provides me no protection from nonsensical, medical discrimination by insurance companies. Instead, it allows them to charge whatever they want to whomever they want for no good reason.
It is not just Americans like myself, with pre-existing conditions, who will suffer. The proposed plan rolls back certain expansions in Medicaid, which would leave millions of seniors and low-income folks without coverage. The bill also hurts middle class families by providing large tax cuts for wealthy individuals. It takes $883 billion back from low- to middle-income families and places it in the hands of the wealthiest Americans.
I’m now insured through the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – as part of a plan my parents, both small-business owners, purchased. This insurance has put my mind at ease, for the moment. As someone with a pre-existing condition, I know that unless political leaders make drastic changes to the plan, the AHCA will be bad for me – as it will be for so many Americans.
I know what it’s like to be unable to see a doctor for even serious injuries. I know what it’s like to constantly hope that you are not sick or injured because the costs would simply be too high. Those are stresses the AHCA will force on millions of Americans – stresses that no American deserves.
Ashley Arnold is a master’s student in public policy at Duke University.