This weekend marks the second anniversary of the Senate vote to repeal the ACA. This vote was a culmination of a contentious battle on Capitol Hill and around the country, with protesters in the halls of Congress being arrested, protests, town halls demanding lawmakers protect the law and the health care of millions of Americans, office protests and petition deliveries to those lawmakers who refused to hold town halls or meet with their constituents. Prior to the Senate vote we witnessed a callous and childish celebration on the grounds of the White House by certain members of Congress and the current President chortling with glee at their successful vote to rip protections and somewhat affordable access to health care from tens of millions of Americans (complete with a purported keg party in the halls of the House).
Those of us who had been advocating and calling, protesting, marching, exhorting our lawmakers to do the right thing sat riveted. Millions who had been sleeping poorly in terror of losing health insurance, in horror of losing protections for those with medical histories that were preventing insurance companies from denying coverage awaited the final vote anxiously. The millions of Americans who finally could access health insurance either through the exchanges or through Medicaid expansion sat on tenterhooks when the final vote came in the Senate. That vote, a party-line vote showing the distinct ideological differences and implacable indifference of some lawmakers to the wishes and desires of those who elected them over the support of special interests, lobbyists, and the like - that vote signified a moment of sanity and a breath of relief. Some lawmakers stood up to the barrage of party pressure and voted for the greater good, despite potential campaign backlash. Just enough Senators voted to stop the juggernaut of inebriation brought on by finally controlling the executive and legislative branches of our government.
And, just like two years ago, this weekend starts the August recess for Congress. A time for lawmakers to go back to their districts and states, to meet with constituents, to hold town halls (or not), march in parades, kiss babies, and get their photos in the paper during the dog days of summer.
While this year has not been as fraught with tension and fear, it has had its own terrors and its own Sword of Damocles dangling over the state of health care in this nation. A current lawsuit, called spurious and ridiculous by experts on both sides of the aisle, awaits decision and eventual appeal to the Supreme Court. Our department of Health and Human Services is issuing rules changes to strip nondiscrimination protections from women, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community, with the potential aim of stripping racial discrimination protections from patients seeking care, not to mention a rule which would allow medical providers to refuse medical treatment that they felt went against the provider’s moral beliefs.
Debate ranges on Capitol Hill to help address the out-of-control prices of life saving medications, as well as prescriptions that allow people to live the best lives they can. Bills have been passed in the House to address the so-called premium subsidy cliff, which if passed and signed, would allow millions of Americans who make over 400% of the federal poverty level to access premium tax subsidies to help them afford plans on the exchanges - many of these between the ages of 50 and 64, who see significant premium increases due to age-rating (or charging those in that age range up to 3 times the premiums of someone who is 26). A bill has been introduced to address the so-called ‘family glitch,’ which prevents family members with access to employer-based benefits that cost more than 9% of the family income from accessing less expensive plans on the exchanges. Other bills have been introduced to help states create their own exchanges, to codify protections for those with ‘pre-existing conditions,’ a term created by the insurance industry to justify denying insurance to those with medical histories they find objectionable.
We are once again hearing how if the ACA is struck down by the courts, GOP leadership will protect those with medical histories, but we have seen no such legislation from them. It is all still a nebulous concept that they will get to if and when needed. We are seeing that while there is a bipartisan bill to address prescription pricing, the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and insurance industry meet at the White House to push against any regulations or laws that may impede their ability to seek excess and uncontrolled profit from the suffering of their fellow citizens. We are seeing large hospital associations sue the poorest patients for bills, seeing people being charged up-front for treatment and testing above and beyond a patient’s copay, we are seeing more social funding appeals for those hit with surprise bills totaling tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we are seeing bankruptcies due to health expenses once again on the rise.
One thing that makes this year different from two years ago is the sheer number of bills and plans that have been introduced to address the problems with health care in this country. One could say there are too many plans to keep track of. Some call for a wholesale overhaul of our nation’s health care system, others call for modest steps toward an eventual goal of universal affordable, comprehensive, equitable, and quality health care. Find one that you like, or support all of them. Steps to fix the current system make sense while we work to see what happens next November. A complete sea-change in our nation’s health care is predicated on a change in Washington and could not be implemented for at least 3 years, but incremental fixes have been proposed, and some have passed the House and are just waiting to be brought up in the Senate.
So, this weekend once again marks a period where we, the People, must take up our signs, our phones, our keyboards, and make sure that the lawmakers in Washington hear from us when they are home. Now is the time to write letters to the editor to demand lawmakers stop holding the health care of this country hostage. Now is the time to gather friends and family, go to town halls, coffees on the corner, office open houses, and yes, even candidate fundraisers if you can. Now is the time to discuss your personal stories, explain what health care means to your family, put a face to the issue with your lawmakers. If you don’t like your lawmaker’s position, seek out their campaign opponent and talk with them.
By all means, go to the beach, see friends, enjoy the flowers and concerts. But, wear a pin at the concerts that says #ProtectOurCare or another health care slogan, join with others who want to protect and defend the health care of everyone you know, get involved, write letters to the local paper, join local grass roots functions. Together we can make some noise and remind lawmakers that we expect them to do the jobs they were elected to do. Remind lawmakers that we are watching and will support them if they are supporting us. Remind them that some lawmakers were brave two years ago, and that we expect them to continue being brave until doing the right thing - on both sides of the aisle - is no longer a thing of political bravery, but an expectation of the position they sought, a position which requires them to protect and defend the Constitution of this great country, and its people.