Last night, House leadership decided to delay a vote on the American Health Care Act, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act. This proposal is projected to result in an additional 24 million people being uninsured. Below, Mina Schultz from West Virginia shares her personal story and perspective on what she stands to loose if we repeal the ACA and strip coverage.
I was 25 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I planned on being a language teacher, and was preparing to serve in the Peace Corps before attending graduate school. The diagnosis changed my plans overnight. I spent the next year in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy treatment, and underwent five surgeries. The cost of this life-saving care would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars and would have driven my family into bankruptcy. But, thankfully under the Affordable Care Act, I was covered by my parents’ insurance, and my treatment didn’t force them into unpayable debt. Now, as a contracted employee of a community health center, I purchase my insurance through the West Virginia Health Insurance Marketplace. At $404 per month, my insurance covers scans, labs, and medications. I’m thankful for this reduced cost because I know what my finances would look like without insurance.
I may not have become a language teacher, but I definitely applied my teaching skills when I worked in health care enrollment. West Virginians, who have benefited greatly from the coverage gained through the ACA, have a wide range of views on how our health care system should work. At some point, everyone may need medical assistance, so everyone needs coverage. Even though the service is a necessity – and immediate one for some of my clients – it can be complicated explaining the details of the insurance market and health care system in an hour-long appointment. Many of my consumers didn’t understand what a co-pay is or had never been to a doctor, but they knew health care is a very personal issue, or even a political one. This can further complicate showing consumers how the ACA helps their health and financial security. Even when I offered practical information, I risked the educational session turning into a debate.
I wasn’t that far removed from my consumers, and understood their concerns, including around cost. No one can grasp the enormity of a catastrophic illness until it happens. But to be fair, no one can grasp the peace of mind that comes with having health coverage until you’ve needed it and used it.
I currently have that peace of mind but each day that passes, my fear grows that soon I will not only be uninsurable, but unemployed. That fear isn’t only for myself, but for all of my consumers who have benefited from their coverage: the plant nursery owner who got his first physical in 20 years, the young woman who caught cervical cancer early, the self-employed IT guy who could afford his thyroid medication again.
We all stand to lose if the ACA is repealed without a replacement that is comparable in the number of Americans it covers and the comprehensiveness of the benefits offered. Frankly, we’ve come too far to move backwards, and I, for one, refuse to take that chance with my own health or the health of my community. Rather than rushing to repeal the ACA, Republicans should reach out to their Democratic colleagues and make improvements to health care that the American people want, like further lowering out-of-pocket costs and doing more to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Mina Schultz is a former Affordable Care Act Enrollment Assister. She currently is a Benefits Enrollment Specialist at a nonprofit that seeks to lift West Virginians out of homelessness. Since surviving cancer, she has taken up swimming and yoga, and loves to travel whenever possible.