Just over one year ago, on May 4, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the so-called “American Health Care Act,” or AHCA. The health care repeal bill would have cut coverage, increased costs, and eliminated protections for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
The bill also would have imposed an “age tax,” letting insurers charge people over 50 five times more for coverage, which would have put the health of 1 in 5 Americans on Medicaid – including seniors, children and people with disabilities – in jeopardy. Thankfully, similar versions of the AHCA failed to pass in the Senate.
To me, the fight over the health care repeal bill wasn’t just political – it was also personal.
At just 15 months old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. That means I need to take multiple shots and blood tests daily to keep me healthy; without insurance, that would be impossible.
After working as an attorney for 10 years, I decided to follow my passion and open a small pet store in Narberth. I was only able to do so because I was grandfathered into an insurance plan as the result of my last job. That plan was becoming prohibitively expensive, but I was denied any other options due to the fact that I was a small business owner with a pre-existing condition. Once the Affordable Care Act was enacted, I was no longer denied access to other insurance options, and I was able to continue to pursue my dream of owning my store. The ACA truly changed my life, as it has for people across our state.
It is important that we take the time to mark the one-year anniversary of House Republicans’ attempts to dismantle health care for millions of Americans. It is worth reminding ourselves just how much the bill would have devastated Pennsylvania.
The AHCA would have stripped health care coverage from a whopping 777,000 Pennsylvanians. For those who might have been able to retain their health care coverage, the AHCA would have raised premiums by double digits.
Though a large portion of Pennsylvanians stood to lose out in some way if the bill had passed, our state’s most vulnerable were the ones at greatest risk. Astonishingly, the AHCA would have allowed states to eliminate provisions that prevent insurers from charging more to people just like me who have pre-existing conditions. That means the 5.5 million Pennsylvanians who have a pre-existing condition could have legally been charged exorbitantly higher prices, while surcharges for conditions like asthma, pregnancy, arthritis, and cancer would have spiked by tens of thousands of dollars.
Furthermore, the bill would have allowed states to opt out from the requirement that all insurers provide a set of 10 essential health benefits, including maternity care, hospitalizations, and mental and behavioral health. This, coupled with the drastic proposed cuts to health programs, would have made it harder for our state and others to tackle the opioid addiction crisis gripping our nation.
Not even the elderly would have been spared in this bill. The AHCA tried to impose what AARP called an “age tax” on older Americans, letting insurers charge people over the age of 50 up to five times more. In Pennsylvania, annual out-of-pocket costs for older people stood to increase by as much as $9,734 by 2026 had the AHCA passed.
Just as sad and shocking is the fact that 10,800 Pennsylvania veterans – those whom we should be protecting the most – might have lost their health care coverage as a result of the AHCA. This is largely due to the AHCA’s unprecedented proposed cuts to Medicaid.
The AHCA was poised to slash Medicaid, the program so many of us rely on, to the tune of $839 billion (or 25%). It would have ended federal programs that help states expand Medicaid to even more vulnerable populations, as well as converted the program into a “per capita cap”, thus ending guaranteed coverage for everyone on the program. In short, it put the health of 77 million Americans – including roughly 2.8 million Pennsylvanians – in jeopardy.
Aside from harming the health of the very citizens who help Pennsylvania prosper, the state budget also stood to take a massive hit under the AHCA. Medicaid cuts included in the bill would have shifted $18 billion in costs to Pennsylvania, straining our state’s finances and forcing legislators to respond by either raising taxes or cutting funding to other critical programs, like education. The AHCA was more than just an attack on our health care; it was a direct threat to the economic well-being of our state.
As we remember the devastation that we narrowly escaped thanks to the Senate striking down the House’s AHCA, we must recommit ourselves to fighting for our health care, holding our representatives in Congress accountable, and, come November, voting out of office those who put partisan politics and big donors before us – their constituents.
Andrea Deutsch is the mayor of Narberth.