If you’re reading this, it means you survived the constant escalation of political turmoil in the seven days leading up to the inauguration. It means you absorbed endless discussions, panels, and analysis about everything from tax returns to potential Russian prostitution tapes. Whether those things being at the forefront of press surrounding our president-elect terrify or titillate you, we all have one thing in common (and no it’s not that we should try and look into one another’s hearts): this is our reality now.
Black, white, female, male, lgbtqia+, young and old, this is our country and after today—the fateful day you’re reading this—Donald Trump is our president. I can’t tell you what that is going to mean for foreign affairs, diplomacy, or the environment. What I am here to research, explain, report and grapple with for and along side you every other week, is health care and health insurance in what is likely its most contentious and unstable iteration in our history.
This column could not be launching at a more appropriate time. The subject of how to protect the health of all Americans seems to be taking a back seat for the incoming administration. Having said that, let me also say that this column will seek to be as bi-partisan as possible. Health is a concept that doesn’t have a political affiliation. It is a universal gift that can be taken away at any time, a fact exacerbated by the ever heating debate on what to do with the trembling Affordable Care Act (ACA).
I will hold people accountable who threaten to danger our population with limiting healthcare laws, militant reproductive health restrictions and the spreading of misinformation—and that includes Donald Trump. But this is not like one of his favorite phrases, a “witch hunt.” This hunt is for the truth, because when our most important asset, our health, is on the line, that’s all that matters.
Everyone’s favorite uncle Joe (Biden) was famously caught on microphone saying to then President Obama at the signing of the ACA, “This is a big f***ing deal, Mr. President.” That moment became iconic not just because it was a humanizing and endearing moment between the two leaders, but because Biden was right. And that is going to be something crucial to remember as we move forward to whatever Congress and the new administration gives us.
As of the most recently published report in 2015 by the Department of Health and Human Services, the ACA had enrolled over 16.4 million previously uninsured Americans in health coverage—the largest reduction in uninsured persons in four decades. The law also stopped insurance companies from essentially considering just being a woman a preexisting condition, with maternity built in for every woman, and an estimated 55 million women benefitting from free preventative screenings. And those are just two profound accomplishments—and in light of that, calling the ACA a “failed law,” as Mitch McConnell recently did, is simply false propaganda.
This isn’t to say that the law wasn’t flawed (much different than a failure). Healthcare.gov is an unintuitive nightmare of a website, often times lacking the bandwidth to sustain all of its users, and with a call center that allows unlicensed, untrained clerical workers to advise people on their health insurance. Beyond that, the law overlooked regulations on health insurance companies. They told them that they had to accept people with preexisting conditions, build in maternity and mental health, and allow dependents to stay on a parent’s policy until the age of 26—but they did not tell them that they had to compete in a certain amount of states or counties within states, or protect licensed insurance professionals with a required commission. And those are just a few of its detrimental downfalls that left hundreds of thousands of insurance agents mercilessly unemployed and tanked what used to be a thriving, if not overpriced, insurance market.
Even with the vitriol being spewed on all sides of the argument, one thing has been made clear—we care.
Health care is intrinsically crucial to all of us, and not just for obvious reasons. In large part this argument has heated up to a boiling point because so many other countries define themselves on how they’ve handled health insurance. There are few areas in the geopolitical landscape that threaten to mock us in such sharp relief by comparison. I hardly remember such venom and fervor in political and personal arguments concerning the Iraq war, the housing crisis, or even the Great Recession. For many reasons, when it comes to the ACA and what is next, we are a pack of starving dogs, and the ACA is a bone getting tossed in the air to be brutally fought over—the promise of something great still leaving much to be desired, getting gnawed on by those who’ve never even tasted anything better.
As this column grows, reproductive care is wildly diversified on a state-by-state basis, Congress and the new administration fight to the bitter end on the ACA (such as the Senate vote-a-rama setting the framework to gut the bill before Obama is even out of office), and we all adjust to this new era, I hope this becomes a space of learning and honesty. Please feel free to constructively comment and send in your own stories. I will do my best to explain the many facets of how health insurance and health care function, essential elements that when misunderstood put you in danger of not protecting or caring for yourself properly.
Over the coming weeks, I will take the dense legislative language being thrown at us and decode and translate it into cause and effect … so that it does not become a blur the way so many political discussions are these days. No, maybe you don’t need to know how to do your own taxes. But you need to know how your insurances works, and how laws effect your healthcare.
Elizabeth Warren, in an impassioned speech to the Senate on January 9th said: “There is no magic replacement plan that will make everything all better,” and that is why I think this column is important—to fill in the gaps between the magical realism floating around on both sides of the heated healthcare debate.
Image: 401(K) 2012, CC-BY
Chloe Stillwell is a Nashville-based columnist focusing on politics, culture and feminism.