Punishing people with pre-existing conditions is a national disgrace


House Republicans continue to show their true, cruel colors with the latest amendment to their bill to gut Obamacare.

[NOTE: This post was written when the House was debating the AHCA, but it remains true about every Republican attempt to repeal the ACA.]

I’m sick of being a pawn in the Republican game of repeal and replace. I’m sick of being punished for having the audacity to live with a pre-existing condition. It’s abundantly clear that House Republicans do not care about the health and welfare of their constituents. They have one goal: To dismantle one of President Barack Obama’s chief achievements, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

It’s a promise they made to their base, and even though most of their base no longer wants to see the ACA destroyed — because they now understand its lifesaving benefits — Republicans are relentless. They don’t care how lousy their legislation is, they don’t care about the lives of 52 million Americans like me with pre-existing conditions — that’s one in four Americans — and millions of others whose health and lives will be in jeopardy if they can no longer afford health insurance and, therefore, healthcare. Republicans care about scoring political points and giving billionaires a permanent tax break. Nothing else.

That explains how Republicans could even consider an amendment to the already-terrible American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would allow states to opt out of the protections guaranteed by the ACA. These protections forbid insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions more — a lot more — and require them to offer a standard level of essential health benefits such as coverage for doctor’s visits or hospital stays. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff said so well, “Republicans’ new health amendment lets insurers charge sick people more, cover less.”

What’s more, Republicans want to exempt themselves from the amendment. Members of Congress, their families and their staffs would enjoy all the protections of the ACA they would deny the rest of us. Just how blind do they think the American people are to their inhumanity?

This craven, self-serving attitude is not leadership. It’s cowardice. It’s legislative malpractice — putting forth legislation that is constructed with no real thought as to how it will impact human beings or even how it will impact the insurance market or the economy. It’s irresponsible and, in many cases, it will be deadly.

If the AHCA with this amendment were to become law, insurance rates for people with pre-existing conditions would skyrocket, meaning many of us could no longer afford coverage. We’d be forced into high-risk pools — which separate us out from everyone else with insurance. Past experience shows us high-risk insurance pools do not work and can’t provide for everyone who needs insurance.

Living with a pre-existing condition — such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, multiple sclerosis or a mental illness — is not a crime, but we will be punished. Even if our health is optimal, we will pay for the audacity of having a chronic health condition, almost always through no fault of our own. In fact, many people with chronic health conditions are actually healthier than those without them, because we understand how vital it is to take good care of our health.

It’s certainly true for me, because I manage my diabetes proactively through diet, exercise and routine care instead of letting my health fall to pieces and risking illnesses like kidney disease or blindness, which would place a much greater burden on the healthcare system and social safety net. That’s why the ACA places so much emphasis on preventive care, which keeps people healthier and reduces costs for everyone.

Seeing Republicans make ludicrous statements like “People with pre-existing conditions should pay more because they’re sick!” just proves how ignorant they are about how healthcare works, and what it means to live with a chronic condition. Perhaps they should educate themselves and, I don’t know, maybe talk to a doctor or a patient or two. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price doesn’t count because he’s already proven he’s an M.D. who is willing to violate the tenet of “First, do no harm.”

If Republicans get their way, people like me will be punished for living with a chronic health condition. We will be sentenced to a lifetime of worry, financial ruin or poor health, forced to make impossible choices like whether to take our medicine or pay our mortgage. We will be punished for living with a chronic health condition, which sends a signal that Republicans would be happy if we were all dead. “Look at how much money we saved the healthcare system by eliminating that pesky burden!” I can imagine them saying. This isn’t hyperbole. This is the message they are sending through their own actions.

People with pre-existing conditions are not a burden. We do not deserve to be punished. We are people with full lives, who contribute to society, who love and are loved, who have families and hopes and dreams. We are not political pawns. We are not numbers on a spreadsheet. We are human beings.

I’ve never said the ACA was perfect and I firmly believe Congress should work on bipartisan legislation to improve it. But repealing the ACA for the sake of repeal with nothing comparable to replace it is reckless and may be literally criminal. When people die because they lose their coverage — and trust me, they will — Members of Congress who vote for repeal should be held accountable. They will have blood on their hands.

Every Member of Congress and Trump Administration official who is pushing to punish innocent Americans for the sake of their political agenda should be ashamed. And it’s up to all of us to make sure they feel the sting of that shame every single day until we vote them out of office.

[Photo by Amy Lynn Smith.]

  • Robin Jordan

    Thank you for the eloquent message. Their ‘party above people’ message is clear. Health care should not be partisan: it is human. The audacity of these legislators to eliminate things like coverage for preexisting conditions for WE THE PEOPLE, yet keep them as a little perk for themselves should outrage every single US citizen. We will all be affected by this legislation, including those (and especially those!) who voted for trump. Tell your Congressional Rep and your Senator no thanks.

  • charlie

    Insurance for pre-existing conditions is NOT insurance, try getting that for your home after it’s burned down. It’s WELFARE, plain and simple. Being paid for by the taxpayers will gather votes, even if it allows the country to go further into debt.

    • HAH! Awesome! Good one!

      Oh, wait. You’re serious aren’t you?

      Dear god, I’ve heard about people as cruel, uncaring, and anti-social as you but I assumed they were all in Congress.

    • Amy Lynn Smith

      I sure hope you never get sick, Charlie. Except everyone will get sick someday. You’ll be singing a different tune then.

    • Charlie, I don’t think you even know what a preexisting condition is.

      If you have bone cancer right now, and you want to buy insurance so you can get treated for bone cancer… Is that what you think it means? It could, but that is not really what we are talking about. In fact, that is why insurance companies, including those affiliated with Obamacare, have specific times when you can enroll.

      PEC 101:

      A) The list of everything that insurance carriers call a “preexisting condition” varies from company to company, and includes hundreds & hundreds of possibilities.

      Have you ever (even as a kid) had allergies? Asthma? Influenza? Food poisoning? Ever proven an arm? Had stitches? Ever in your life have you had an illness or an injury?

      These are all preexisting conditions. Doesn’t matter if it lasted one day or happened 50 years ago. An insurance company can legally refuse to take you. But more likely, if you do develop heart disease or a cancerous brain tumor, these conditions are helpful for them. They note you have an appendix scar. They check back in the records. Yup! When you were 13.

      “We’re so sorry, but we have to stop your chemo. Appendicitis is one of our preexisting conditions. Technically you should not have been accepted as a client at all. Please arrange a ride home. You have 30 minutes to leave the facility. ”

      B) Somehow this never occurs to folks like you. It’s amazing, but there are dozens of Health conditions that people have but can still be productive members of society BECAUSE they have health care and medication, and most, they were born with.

      Over the years, you may have had coworkers with epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, narcolepsy, continual migraines, clinical depression, Crohn’s disease, Diabetes 1, vertigo, anxiety disorder, lupus, etc. etc. You didn’t know, and they were WORKING, *BECAUSE* they had ongoing treatment.

      Without it, many will lose their jobs and get too sick and stay unemployed. And you will hate them for THAT.

      Is there ANY way at ALL to get you people to be less stupid? There is information all around you but it’s invisible to you.

      • Ah! Breitbart is your top news source. Explains the idiocy.

  • Thank you for this. Would you be President?

    I am writing about this on Daily Kos but I’m way behind because I’m so depressed about it I am literally sick. I look into the future and see nothing. And now I know that despite the many things I accomplished during the 50 years when I was well enough to work, volunteer, and fully participate irate in society, my life means nothing at all to my country.

    If I took myself out tomorrow, I would be one less burden. And I see that as a likely consequence – a huge increase in suicides among people with health conditions, an inability to work, and no hope of treatment, ever.

    America is being run by psychopaths, and everything we have ever done to improve our standard of living is vanishing. More than that, all the nations who have better health care, education, quality of life, economic mobility, financial stability, etc. are all going in one direction, and we are racing in the other.

    I didn’t realize “Make America Great Again” meant to destroy it. And it would be ironic if, when people heard that phrase, they thought of the 1940s to the 1970s – – when economic and living standards were so high we were the envy of the world. Because that was the most subsidized period in history.

    • Amy Lynn Smith

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with such eloquence and passion. The Republicans who voted for the AHCA (and people like Charlie) simply do not understand — or do not care to. I’m sorry you’re struggling with health issues and I sincerely hope that those of us who care about our country are able to convince our government not to punish us for health conditions we didn’t ask for. I wish you the best.

  • Jonah Thrasher

    Are you joking? This is horrible. I have Crohn’s disease, the the ACA made things hell for me. My insurance covered me yes, but they refused to cover me for proper treatment. They denied giving me the medicine I required, and tried to put me on something that almost ruined my life. Not to mention that when my coverage got worse, they somehow charged me almost four times the price. The ACA was horrible, and the new act stops insurance companies from denying me coverage. It has many glaring flaws, of course, but none worse than the numerous more in the ACA

  • Sceth Cheshire

    While I certainly support subsidization of pre-existing conditions and robust social services/welfare/benefits, it really befuddles me that Americans use “health insurance” to mean “the way that people pay for healthcare.” When I hear “health insurance” I understand that to be “insurance” – that is, an uncertainty reduction service to an individual for a liability with no guarantee of actually occurring – related to health. A lot of healthcare expenses are not uncertain, in that they will in fact occur at to a given individual. This would bring it down to casualty trauma, infectious disease, and perhaps a small suite of other things.

    I realize that if insurance is just “the way Americans pay for healthcare” you want it to include pre-existing conditions, but why not just stop trying to sneak in a stealth tax and instead just pay for the pre-existing conditions with taxes? It seems disingenuous and inefficient to behave otherwise. And nobody should expect an insurance market intended to cover any kind of defined set cost to work. Healthcare is not exceptional in the inapplicability of “insurance” as it is usually understood.