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Renewed Urgency in Fight for Affordable Health Care

Renewed Urgency in Fight for Affordable Health Care

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), by a narrow 217-213 vote. The vote is a distressing turn of events for those committed to expanding access to quality, affordable health care. The AHCA was withdrawn at the end of March largely because the bill limits access to quality health care because of the widespread public opposition to the proposed law.

The new version of the AHCA that the House passed remains  a disastrous regress on all the advancements the Affordable Care Act has made. In fact, new amendments to the AHCA made the bill even worse than the first iteration the House debated in March, especially for those with serious health conditions. The law also remains deeply unpopular.

The last-minute amendments made to the AHCA garnered attention because they directly impacted the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protection for coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. With these amendments, the AHCA threatens to send the health care system back to the era when people could be charged more because of their health status. With that in mind, the AHCA’s most significant problems are its effects on low-income Americans and people with disabilities. The AHCA fundamentally restructures Medicaid by capping the amount of federal dollars states will receive to administer the program. It also largely ends the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. In other terms, the AHCA is an $839 billion cut to the program. These changes will devastate low-income Americans who first began receiving health care because of the ACA, and it will harm low-income children and people with disabilities who will no longer have the same Medicaid guarantee that has existed since 1965.

Now that the AHCA has passed through the House, it moves to the Senate. The Senate can take one of three routes: 1) pass the AHCA as it is currently written; 2) revise the bill and seek House approval on their version; 3) vote down the House-passed legislation, without or without amendments. All indications suggest that option #2 is the most likely. Senators are already discussing the changes they would like to make to the AHCA. It is encouraging to hear that the Senate is considering the negative implications of the law, but the underlying policies of the AHCA are so harmful that the bill needs to be completely revisited before it would be an adequate replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

The best hope to protect affordable health care will be if the public continues to pressure the Senate, as well as the House, about the importance of building on the ACA’s accomplishments. The ACA could be improved to reach millions more Americans, and much more could be done to lower health care costs, especially for those who receive coverage through the individual market. But no health care reform should increase costs, leave more people uninsured or create lower quality coverage. The AHCA, as written, does all three.

The current period of the Omer, during which we count the days from Passover to Shavuot, reminds us of the transformation of the Israelites from an enslaved people to a nation bound by God’s commandments. The relationship between God and the Israelites is not one-sided, but is a covenant that places responsibilities on both parties. This covenantal relationship can serve as a model for the way that Americans can view their relationship with the government. People are asked to pay taxes, follow laws, and participate in democracy, and government is expected to care for the needs of its constituents. The current debate over health care compels us to demand that government properly play its role by providing for those most in need, and helping as many Americans as possible access health insurance.

Take action by calling or writing your Members of Congress and urging them to oppose the AHCA and defend affordable health care.  

Nathan Bennett is a 2016-2017 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Originally from Wilmette, IL, he is a member of Ner Tamid Ezra Habonim Egalitarian Minyan and graduated from Northwestern University.

Nathan Bennett

Published: 5/17/2017