An exclusive interview with one of the most outspoken champions for the American people in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee gets it. He’s been fighting for the American people, particularly working families, his entire career. And when it comes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, he understands the human consequences better than most people: His wife has multiple sclerosis and his daughter has diabetes. Both of these conditions are incurable but manageable — but without health insurance, these conditions would be life-threatening.
So it’s not just that Rep. Kildee advocates for his constituents, including those who live in Flint. He personally understands what’s at stake if the ACA is repealed or dismantled.
I spoke with Rep. Kildee after the “Save Our Healthcare” rally in Warren, Mich. As usual, the Congressman was eloquent and passionate. So I’m sharing the interview as it happened, only lightly edited for length and clarity.
Help our readers understand the human cost of repealing the ACA.
People have had their lives transformed because for the first time ever they don’t go to bed every night worrying that their next illness could turn their whole world upside down. I know that I’m in a unique position — I’m fortunate to have a job that has provided me with healthcare — but I wonder what my life would be like without it, or what the life of another person in a similar situation would be. My wife has multiple sclerosis and my daughter has diabetes. I worry about it with my daughter because she’s going to be 25 in June — she’s a year away from being on her own [because under the ACA children can stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26]. Is she going to be able to get health insurance to take care of herself? Those stories are numbered in the millions. So when people begin to speak up, I think Republicans are going to have a real awakening.
I’m sure you’re hearing from your constituents who are concerned about losing their health insurance.
For them, it’s not about “Oh, those Republicans….” It’s fear, it’s anxiety about their loved ones or themselves. That’s the most powerful emotion on the face of the Earth. The worry or concern about caring for a sick child. It’s the kind of thing that transforms all political arguments — sometimes they’re bigger than that.
Even Republican voters are starting to say “We didn’t vote to have our insurance taken away.”
It’s a very cynical notion that the Republican leadership is clinging to — that they’re sort of obligated to vote to repeal when they have no idea what they’re going to replace it with, because they say they promised they would repeal it. Even knowing that it will create chaos, not just in the healthcare world but it will create chaos for people. Isn’t it amazing that they don’t care about that or that they rationalize that it doesn’t matter?
Republicans tell themselves that their plan will allow you to keep your child on your insurance until they’re 26, that their plan will prohibit denial over a pre-existing condition, that their plan will not allow you to be kicked off your health insurance if you get sick, that their plan will not kick 20 million people off who, for the first time ever, have the freedom of health insurance that others have enjoyed. They’re telling themselves that those elements will all be maintained. There’s a simple way to maintain them: Work with us to fix the real problems with the ACA. Don’t blow it up.
I contacted my representative, Congressman Dave Trott, and explained to his staff that I have diabetes, and without insulin I will die. That I am self-employed and give contract work to others, and without the ACA I might not be able to afford insurance and would have to find a job somewhere instead of being an entrepreneur. His email response said, in part, “Obamacare does little to actually protect patients….” It’s very upsetting that some members of Congress don’t seem to understand the law or what’s at stake.
If a person is born into wealth and has experienced wealth their entire existence, they can’t understand why you can’t just go buy your insulin, or you can’t just go sign up and pay the premium for health insurance. It’s not recognized as a fundamental right — it’s actually recognized as one of the consequences of the competition in the economy. It’s sad.
Something many people don’t know is that Democrats don’t just want to keep the ACA — they want to improve on it. Can you provide an example of how you’d do that?
Sure. The entire healthcare system is sort of interconnected. So things like allowing Medicare to negotiate for bulk pricing on prescription drugs would bring down costs. Even something as simple as thinking about the imperfections in the structure of the marketplace. The way the health insurance exchanges are set up is sort of uneven. For example — and this is not an opinion shared by Republicans, but it’s true — having a public option [a federally run insurance program that would compete with private insurers for consumers’ business] would change the competition in the marketplace.
Republicans will say ‘That’s a step toward government control,’ but if the marketplace is this perfect environment they say it is, why is the market afraid of competition from what Republicans say is a highly inefficient institution, the federal government? If it’s so inefficient, it won’t compete — so let’s try it out. But they don’t want to deal with it. They just want to blow it up and go back to the way it used to be. They liked it, it worked for them. But it doesn’t work for all of us.
Something else people don’t realize is that repealing the ACA would hurt everyone — not just people who bought their coverage through HealthCare.gov.
The reality is that this isn’t even a question of rich and poor. It’s about healthy and sick. And it’s about people who don’t understand that sooner or later, they will have an illness or a family member may have an illness that could change everything. So while it’s about 20 million people who, for the first time ever, have health insurance, it’s also about many tens of millions who, before the ACA, walked around with a health insurance card in their wallet and thought they had health insurance. And then they got sick and their insurance got cancelled — the falsehood of insurance that no longer exists with the ACA.
If my wife and I had to deal with lifetime limits on her coverage, there would come a moment where the medications she takes right now to delay the degenerative nature of her disease would be gone and she would be left with nothing. There are millions of people in this same position. So this idea that many Republicans suggest — that things were so much better before the Affordable Care Act — the only way it was better is if you were not sick and you were never going to get sick, or you were never going to die, ever.
The people of Flint have been facing tough challenges and they are going to have more significant healthcare needs than the average person moving forward because of their toxic exposure to lead. What happens to them if the ACA is repealed?
That’s a good question. We were able to get an expansion of Medicaid under the ACA for residents of Flint, for example. What happens when the Republicans take that away?
There are human consequences to all these questions. This transcends political ideology. This is such a fundamental question. With all the advantages we have in this country — with all the opportunity and the ingenuity and productivity and wealth we have — it should be embarrassing that we’re the only advanced society that doesn’t guarantee its citizens access to life-saving treatment or even basic preventive healthcare. It’s kind of pathetic.
There are a lot of reasons why healthcare costs continue to go up, and one of them has to do with the fact that we are doing amazing things in healthcare. We’ve got to accept the fact that those amazing things keep people alive and ease misery. They’re not free. You can’t have a situation where you don’t have to make any contribution to help someone else have it, but you can have it when you want it. That’s fundamentally selfish.
What can the people of Michigan and the rest of the country do to help the Democrats fight to protect and improve the ACA?
Tell your stories about what the law means to you and then ask very tough questions if your member of Congress is not with us. Ask them, ‘What do I do when the health insurance that provides me with insulin or interferon is gone? Can I call you? Will you help me?’ It has to be about personal stories.
We couldn’t agree more, Congressman.
If you have a story about how the ACA has helped you or your family, tell us about it HERE if you’d like to be considered for a future post. We’ll keep sharing these stories to underscore what’s at stake if the law is repealed without a replacement.
[Photos courtesy of Congressman Dan Kildee’s office.]