The U.K.-born American resident, who grew up having access to Britain's NHS, would literally have died without Obamacare. If the GOP has their way, over 20 million of us just might.
Last Friday morning, we woke up to find that the Senate had voted, 51 to 48, to start building legislation that would tear down the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare. The vote followed seven hours of debate with Democrats, who voiced their concerns long into the night until the vote was taken early in the morning. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky) shared Democrats’ concerns that the legislation to dismantle the ACA was being pushed through without any indication of what, if anything, would replace it. But the Republicans were determined to push their legislation through as quickly as possible.
Senate Democrats tried to force the Republicans to take tough votes on protecting mental-health services and women’s access to health care. One such measure would block the Senate from passing any legislation “that would reduce or eliminate access to mental-health services.” Another contained prohibitions against cutting funding for maternity care. Republicans blocked every single amendment suggested by the Democrats, including the amendment preventing changes to Medicare and Medicaid. The overwhelming sense on the Hill is that the Republicans are acting unnecessarily fast with an overly ambitious timeline.
Which demonstrates without a doubt that the Republicans, headed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, and demanded by PEOTUS Donald Trump, simply do not care about the over 20 million people who will lose their health insurance because they have preexisting conditions or cannot afford it without government subsidies. Certainly this legislation does not yet mean the complete end of the ACA, but it’s a huge step in dismantling it, and it is imperative for the public to now continue putting pressure on their senators, particularly those living in red states. As I write this, I can’t help thinking about how quickly we became accustomed to having insurance, despite the bureaucracy and the difficulties thrown in our way by the insurance companies, despite the pain of having to reenroll every year. Dealing with ACA was annoying, in large part due to the way the insurance companies chose to handle it and for its raising cost each year. But for the first time, health care wasn’t just a luxury product for the rich, a business enterprise designed simply to make money. Health care, briefly, became what it should be: a service.
In this country, health care is treated like a business, when it should be regarded as a service. And there is a fundamental difference between a service and a business. Imagine if firefighters billed us for saving our lives—oh, scratch that. They do. Several years ago, the day after Christmas, I nearly died, and when the EMTs arrived and took me three miles to the nearest hospital, of course they charged me for it. Thankfully, my insurance covered part of it, but my portion was around $300. A service is not a capitalist enterprise. A service should not need to turn a profit because it is simply intended to … serve. To provide services to a society they could not function without, like sanitation, education, postal service, rescue and recovery work, and health care, so individuals may live longer, die with dignity and grace and as little pain as possible, knowing that all options to keep them alive were exhausted.
I’ve experienced health as both a service and as a business: I’m Welsh. I was born in the U.K. and raised by a doctor and a nurse. My mother and father both worked for the National Health Service, our health-care system which was established after World War II by a politician named Aneirin (Nye) Bevan to provide all U.K. citizens with health care funded collectively by taxation, and so it was free at the point of entry. I named my son Nye because this system means so much to me. Everything on the NHS is “free”: vaccines, check ups, emergency room visits, cancer treatment, birth, death. Which is to say our taxes fund hospitals, clinics, surgeries, general practitioners, women’s health services, sexual health services—everything. There are many, problems with the NHS, and much debate to be had about what exactly it should and shouldn’t fund, but these problems are dwarfed when it comes to the American system.
Since 2005, I have lived in the United States, half of that time spent without an immigrant visa (I presently have a green card) and the majority of it spent without health insurance. In 2008, I contracted MRSA in California, and after enduring two weeks of fevers of 100 degrees and over, and abscesses that rendered me unable to eat, sleep, or walk, my roommate drove me to an ER in downtown L.A. I was so sick I can’t even remember which one. I was left alone in the ER with an aluminum carton of Chinese food, curled up in a corner, febrile and delirious. After a five-hour wait, my boils and abscesses were lanced, my blood was sent off for diagnosis, I was given injections, Vicodin for the pain, and Bactrim to combat the (suspected but as yet unconfirmed) MRSA, with a warning that I might need intravenous solutions of Vancomycin (an extremely costly drug) if the Bactrim didn’t work. The doctor spent a total of 15 minutes with me. Had I not gone to the ER, I probably would have died. People don’t just “get over” MRSA like the flu. I had nothing in my bank account, but gave the hospital everything I had then and there, about $800. A month later they billed me an additional $5,000. I sent the bill to my father, who added up the actual cost of the services I received: medication and treatment that actually totaled about $60.
I’ve never walked into a doctor’s office in America and thought, Fuck this is amazing! This is where the money’s going! These people are totally getting their money’s worth!’ I grew up in hospitals and medical clinics, following my parents around, hanging out behind the scenes after school. The facilities I’ve seen in America are comparable. No better. Sure, it was nice to have a private room when I gave birth and nearly died, but was it worth the $45,000 they billed my insurance company? No, it fucking wasn’t. Give me a ward any day (and in case you’re wondering, you do have an option on Britain’s National Health Service to pay extra to get a private room whenever you want).
Health care is not a fucking business. It is not a new fucking iPad. Treating medications like the iPhone 5, spiraling costs in proportion to demand, giving private companies the opportunity to profit from people’s sickness and death, is the most horrific thing I have heard in my life. So when the Affordable Care Act was passed, I immediately applied for it. Despite my frustration with the bureaucratic mess they made of it, it was a start. It was a chance for Americans to know they wouldn’t lose their home and all their assets if they got sick, had an accident, or develop a chronic disease to pay for a lifesaving operation or medication.
I’m cussing a lot because I’m furious. Like millions of Americans (despite my Welsh birth, I’m about to become an American citizen) I have never had an employer who paid for my health care. (Actually, I had one employer, who was mandated to provide me with health care for a year through the Writers Guild.) But now this kind of bullshit is back. Donald Trump and the Republicans’ attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act is not a way to curb a bureaucratic mess, but an out and out war on the American people. Because repealing the ACA would mean everyone with a preexisting condition will no longer be able to get health-care coverage. It means those of you middle-income people without health care provided by an employer, but unable to qualify for Medicare, will have to dig deep and find $200 to $300 a month to give to an insurance company who will squabble over each and every doctor’s visit, every dime you spend, every minor symptom you have.
After the birth of my son and a horrible divorce, I was crippled with depression and anxiety and PTSD. I credit mental-health-care services—weekly visits to a therapist at $40 a pop even with insurance, monthly visits to a psychiatrist at $50, monthly prescriptions at $20—with saving my life. I am a healthy person. I do yoga, I dance, I eat healthy, I’m active. Being felled by MRSA, a retained placenta, mental-health issues could and would have killed me without insurance.
Living in America is prohibitively expensive, and in a big city, even more so. Rent, traffic tickets, tickets for having you dog off leash, tickets for overtaking in the fast lane—it never fucking ends. I often feel like white men are masticating me as they try to suck the sinews off my bones to make stock for their fucking stew. This country is a devastating and unfriendly place to be, and yet here we all are, trying to make the best of it, faced with little choice but to wake up, day after day, work in jobs we hate for pennies our employers argue over, paying rent for homes owned by people who see us as cash cows. I knew this was happening, but the reality of it has devastated me more than I can say. In my ten years of American living, moving here during the Bush era, I began to see real change, and now I am bearing witness to a perilous plunge into a new, worse horror.
We need to do everything we can to stop it. Start by picking up the phone: Call. Your. Senator.
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