Is it dead; is it alive; is it on life support? It seems the status of the Affordable Care Act, which provides millions of Americans with health care coverage, changes by the day. In a few weeks I will be renewing health insurance coverage for my family and myself through the ACA/Obamacare. Although we have been receiving our health insurance this way since the ACA’s inception in 2014, I have no idea what to expect this year.
The Republican Party, and President Donald Trump in particular, have been doing their best to dismantle the ACA. When the two replacement bills died on the vine in the U.S. Senate, Donald Trump took charge and began chipping away at Obamacare, leaving it to die a slow death rather than by quick execution. Unable to kill the ACA in one fell swoop, its opponents have taken up sabotage as their weapon of choice.
Funding has been cut, resulting in a shorter and less-publicized open enrollment period and a disappearance of “Navigators” who previously were available to help consumers navigate a complex and confusing system, as their name suggests.
Last week, the Trump administration removed the funding for the tax subsidies that have helped 80 percent of ACA recipients pay for health insurance. On Tuesday, it was announced the subsidies will be covered under block grants to the states, but no actual plan exists. What will it be next week?
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Obamacare is an imperfect solution to our health care crisis, but it is nonetheless a solution that has saved and improved millions of people’s lives. Personally, both my husband and I were able to undergo long-delayed surgeries that have improved our health and our ability to be more productive citizens. Before the ACA went into effect, we had been without comprehensive health coverage for at least eight years. Under the ACA, we have been able to add our two children in college to our insurance plan as they’ve aged out of Medicaid for children.
We are not alone. A record number – 11.5 million people – are enrolled in Obamacare this year despite the president’s threats to shut it down.
As a medical social worker, I can tell you what it means for people to have comprehensive health insurance. It means going to the doctor for preventative care, not waiting until one is so sick she can’t function. It means being able to afford your medications and therapies. This can be the difference in being able to live a full life, participating as a “productive member of society,” or being unable to function on a day-to-day basis. Or this can mean that right here in the United States people die of treatable, curable illnesses.
By doing away with federal funding of the subsidies, President Trump shifted the burden of funding to the insurance companies. This will result in an increase in premiums for recipients, especially the 20 percent who don’t receive any subsidies. It will also lead to insurance companies leaving the marketplace. Without the participation of the insurance companies, there will be no more affordable health insurance for Americans who have been covered by the ACA. And without health insurance, we will be back to hoping and praying we don’t get sick or break any bones, at least until we’re old enough to get Medicare.
Medicare? Oh, wait. Medicare premiums have been on the rise, along with Medicare deductibles. The Trump administration is planning to cut $500 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid to pay for tax cuts to corporations and wealthy individuals. I’ve got a number of years to go before I qualify for Medicare. Who knows if it will still exist by the time I turn 65.
Is Obamacare perfect? Absolutely not. There are many people who don’t qualify for the ACA or Medicaid and can’t afford private health insurance. Does Obamacare help millions of people? Absolutely.
President Trump promises to replace the ACA with something better. The proof is in the pudding. He should not destabilize or kill the ACA until there actually is something better in place to care for the millions of citizens who rely on Obamacare now.
Mary Rider, MSW, is co-founder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House, a community that provides hospitality to the poor.