If you haven’t been following the national conversation about health care closely, you may not know that the time to sign up for health care is now. To be very clear, the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA or “Obamacare”) is very much alive and offering accessible health care to all. (** Open Enrollment Window: November 1, 2017 to December 15, 2017 for coverage beginning January 1, 2018 **)
That’s why the Trump Administration has made a concerted effort to not publicize it, to not do outreach. It’s cut the enrollment advertising budget by 90 percent and the enrollment period by half. Having given up on Repeal and Replace, the Trump Administration and the GOP have moved onto Sabotage the Sick.
Sabotaging open enrollment is a goal of the Administration which wants to be able to wag its finger and say, “See, people aren’t signing up, Obamacare isn’t working.” Lower enrollment numbers will shape the healthcare debate going forward. This concerted effort to sabotage is meant to weaken the insurance market, undercut affordable access, and raise the cost of health insurance for millions of us.
We cannot let that happen.
When I moved to Florida eight years ago, I was a self-employed person in my 50’s and couldn’t get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Neither could my wife. Our problem wasn’t that we were poor — I am an author who works with clergy and congregations around the country, and my wife is a realtor. We were middle class, making enough income to get by and save a little for retirement. Our problem was that every healthcare company would reject us as self-employed persons with pre-existing conditions. That’s why we were so grateful when the ACA passed. Millions of Americans have benefited, including my wife and me.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act has problems that need fixing. Even its most stalwart supporters have known its passage was an important step, but not the last step.
The core of the problem rests in many rural counties where there is not enough volume to make the “business” of health care successful. So where I live in southwest Florida, for example, we now have only one healthcare provider and rates have risen. But if the Trump Administration is successful in lowering enrollment, rates rise even faster and push the system toward collapse.
Religious leaders like me know something that our politicians don’t. We minister to the sick, the dying, and their families. We walk with people whose spouses or parents have Alzheimer’s or other debilitating diseases. We know what happens to parents with a son or daughter struggling with an opioid addiction, mental illness, or childhood cancer. And we have prayed and wept with people denied affordable health care due to a pre-existing condition.
We know these people aren’t lazy. We know they aren’t bad. We know they simply need help.
Take, for example, opioid addiction, a tragic epidemic in many rural areas. The president has made official declarations (two so far) acknowledging that opioid addiction is a public health emergency, but talk is cheap (literally). Not only do his proclamations come with no funding, his proposed budget cuts federal spending on the opioid crisis, reducing funding by $97 million, and he’s eliminating successful programs like the anti-heroin task force. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The ACA includes substance abuse and mental health treatment as essential benefits.
It’s hard to imagine what would motivate politicians to sacrifice the sickest and poorest first, yet provide tax breaks to the richest of the rich. Taking health care away from seniors, people in poverty, expectant mothers and people with disabilities is not pro-life; it’s just plain wrong. That’s why health care has become an issue for the faith communities across the country, because we believe God cares for the sick and forgotten. Whether or not they are on the right or the left, we believe health care is not a privilege for the rich, but rather a responsibility that we all share.
We know that the ACA can help millions of people get the care they need, and we need to make sure they know that, too! So we have a plan: #SoulsToEnroll. Every house of worship is invited to help get the word out that it’s time to enroll in health care. Free resources are available at www.networklobby.org/enrollment.
Americans are not “exchanges” or “markets.” We are lives that literally depend on politicians putting human beings above ideology and putting the common good above partisan bickering.
Proverbs 3:27 states, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Congress has the power to act. Our governors have the power to act.
The ACA has drastically reduced the number of uninsured adults in our nation, and we cannot allow that progress to be undone. And it’s not just some unnamed theoretical person we’re talking about.
It’s my wife. It’s me. It’s all of us.