By LIAM McMAHON
As summer arrives, we again find ourselves in the midst of a partisan fight over a very important piece of legislation. This legislation — the Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act — will impact the lives of millions of Americans and a cool 1/6th of the economy.
The process in which it has been crafted is dubious; senators do not know the full impact of a bill they are expected to vote on next week, which has been subject to neither amendments nor hearings. Its text was released only on Thursday.
However, in the furor over the way in which the bill was created, it has been easy to lose sight of why this legislation truly matters.
This is not a subtle change in the tax code, or a menial tweak of regulations. This bill would not only have a monumental impact on the daily lives of millions of Americans, but it will hurt the most vulnerable among us. The young. The poor. The sick. The elderly. The human impact of this bill — on so many of us — is why so many people feel strongly about fighting against it.
This bill is incredibly personal to me. I have never felt so hurt and so deeply upset by my government than when House Republicans passed their version of the American Health Care Act, for one simple reason: I am a pre-existing condition.
When I was in the sixth grade, I dealt with severe mental health issues. I was scared of moving up from elementary to middle school, and soon after the school year started I got sick. It was fairly routine — just a stomach bug.
But that stomach bug made me more nervous to go to school. I started to develop a social anxiety disorder, and to put on weight. I started to get bullied, for being shy, and nervous and chubby. My social anxiety worsened to the point that I could not go to school at all, and I eventually became depressed.
I spent the vast majority of sixth grade sitting at home, paralyzed by the notion of going to school. I missed months of classes, and on more than one occasion seriously contemplated committing suicide.
I began therapy, and took anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. For the next several years, I saw a therapist and a psychiatrist regularly. After several months of sixth grade had passed, I gradually started going to school — doing partial days, and adding another hour every couple of weeks until the spring, when I finally completed a full day.
Eventually, I worked up to going all day, every day. However, getting through the day didn’t get much easier.
I continued to be bullied at school, and frequently had to excuse myself from class so that I could go have a panic attack in the bathroom rather than in the classroom. I could hardly face changing in front of other students in gym class, let alone swimming in our school pool.
But I gradually got better. By high school I was no longer taking anti-depressants. I found activities, sports and friends who gave me the support structure necessary to not only get through, but to enjoy high school. I was able to take class trips to San Antonio, Knoxville, and Washington.
I edited student publications, played varsity tennis and competed in national and international student competitions. I landed with a group of friends who not tolerated but accepted and loved who I was as a person and helped me to be comfortable in my own skin.
I now attend Macalester College, where I have made other incredible friends who continue to make me feel loved and accepted, and where I continue to grow as a person and a student.
When I look back on where I was six or seven years ago, I am blown away by several things. I feel like a different person, someone more inclined towards empathy and with a greater desire to help other people.
I am also blown away by how lucky I was that my parents neither thought me crazy nor beyond help. I feel incredibly lucky that they supported me in getting the help I needed, because there are many people who have neither the support structure nor the financial capacity to get that help.
That there are people in this country who cannot get the care they need is wrong. I struggle to find the words to convey just how completely, inexplicably, undoubtedly wrong that is.
The way we talk about health care in this country is a disgrace. Treating people’s health as a commodity is utterly despicable. And yet, we are on the brink of rolling back protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
While under the Senate version of the bill — unlike the House version — insurance companies cannot simply deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, it may not stop them from being priced out of an insurance market. Insurance companies would be able to deny essential health benefits — like the mental health care I feel so lucky to have received.
People with pre-existing conditions have done things like have a C-section, or have cancer, or get born with a tiny hole in their heart, or get bullied while growing up and need mental health help.
One of the most despicable arguments against protecting people with pre-existing conditions from being charged ungodly premiums for care is that somehow they’ve done something wrong — that, somehow, people with pre-existing conditions have earned their lot in life.
No argument is as vile, as vicious, and as deeply insulting as that one is. I did not ask to be bullied to the point of contemplating suicide. No one has ever done or ever will do anything to deserve breast cancer. No one has ever earned being born with a tiny hole in their heart.
At the moment, I could not care less about whether the President colluded with anyone or obstructed anything or tweeted out another half-baked thought in the middle of the night.
Right now, nothing matters but health care. This is the single most important moment since President Trump assumed office. The struggle for care for those who cannot afford it, and for those of us with pre-existing conditions, touches everyone.
We all have someone we love who cannot keep up with their medical bills, or beat cancer, or was born with a pre-existing condition.
Please, do not sit on the sidelines this week. Get involved. Write a letter. Call your senators. Show up at their offices. Do whatever you can to defeat this. We need each of you.
Resist. Persist. Pre-exist.