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.]