Last night the disability community witnessed the fruits of our labor when the Senate GOP failed in its quest to repeal and replace, or just repeal, the Affordable Care Act. Make no mistake, this would not have happened if disabled activists hadn’t pushed the issue initially and kept it alive in headlines and in the minds of elected officials by visiting Senator’s offices, calling, writing, emailing daily and, yes, risking arrest, sitting-in and being arrested until the rest of the country could catch up. The nation owes groups like ADAPT a huge debt of gratitude.
The Democrats who voted in unison against the effort to take away health care also deserve our appreciation. Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey’s speech on the floor of the Senate linking the common American values of liberty and freedom to disability rights was a particular highlight.
Across the aisle, GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) have put themselves on the line for months and have earned both protection and good will for their work, often outside the spotlight, for being on the right side of history through the duration of this fight. While Senator McCain’s dramatic return and subsequent "NO" vote has garnered the lion’s share of headlines, which certainly deserves our appreciation, let’s not forget the foundation on which last night’s victory took place.
Hopefully, our nation can seize the opportunity this crisis provides. Rather than repeal or replace, what our nation needs most collectively and politically, right now, is repair.
Recognizing this, a working group within the bi-partisan Problem Solvers caucus led by Tom Reed (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), has been meeting over the past month to work on solutions to problems within the current health care system, according to an article in Politico. Bipartisan efforts on health care coverage have been nearly impossible since Obamacare passed seven years ago with only Democratic votes. Republicans, whose egos were obviously bruised by the move, have tried to abolish the Affordable Care Act ever since without any input from Democrats, who in turn have refused to cooperate unless wholesale repeal is taken off the table.
Regrettably, but not surprisingly, President Trump has threatened to cut off crucial AFA cost-sharing subsidies, estimated at $7 billion this year, as soon as next month. That could lead to an exodus of insurers, who rely on those payments to reduce out-of-pocket costs for the poorest customers currently covered by Obamacare.
This misses the point. In the end, the battle to even hold the line on health care was not just to "keep a promise" (to repeal, from the Republican side) or to preserve the legacy of Obamacare from the perspective of the Dems. For the activists involved it has always been about getting better healthcare, for everyone. The opportunity to work together in a bipartisan manner, to stabilize marketplaces, improve coverage choice in bare counties, and to ensure that we have excellent, sustainable community-based healthcare for disabled Americans and low-income individuals and families is now.
Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and leader of the team which repaired healthcare.gov after its problematic rollout, said it is time for both political parties to enter into peace negotiations in the seven-year health care wars.
"It is time for it to stop being Obamacare or Trumpcare," said Slavitt in the San Francisco Chronicle. "We need to make it something that everybody owns."
Creating health care that both parties can own means being bold enough to change course and do the opposite of what President Trump has threatened. Petty grudges and grandstanding won’t fix what is wrong with our health care system. The most immediate priority and a truly bipartisan approach to meeting the needs of patients and people caught within partisan gridlock would be to take concrete, meaningful steps to stabilize the exchanges. To start, Congress should require the Trump administration to enforce the current individual and employer mandates and fully fund current cost-sharing arrangements.
What You Can Do:
1) If you live in Maine, Alaska, or Arizona, thank Sens. Murkowski, Collins, and McCain. Particularly Senators Murkowski and Collins. They have put themselves on the line for months and have earned some support, protection and good will for the work they have done. Make sure they get it.
2) Follow-up with target Senators in NV, KS, CO, WV, OH, LA, IN, UT, WI, and GA. Ask them to support Medicaid and a bi-partisan process to address health care.
3) In all states, contact your Senators:
- Thank them for their vote if they voted the way you wanted them to (or take the opportunity to say again why the Medicaid protections that allow disabled Americans to live, work and learn among our non-disabled peers in the community are so important.
- Take a page from Senator McCain’s book by asking your Senators to return to "regular order" to address improving health care and improving Medicaid
- Ask your Senators to hold bi-partisan hearings on the topics of health care, Medicaid, and community-based long-term services and supports
- 4) Tell your Senators that improving the ACA and improving health care for the nation should be the goal. Pre-empt the President’s favorite fantasy about letting the ACA implode which would harm millions of disabled and non-disabled Americans alike.
Lastly, just as we work to fix the system, let’s also take some time this weekend to take care of ourselves. Use the upcoming weekend to reconnect with friends and family, bingewatch that series you’ve been meaning to catch on Netflix or read something escapist—not remotely connected to advocacy, politics or conflict. Hug your dog or cat.
Victories of this magnitude are few and far between so make sure to find some personally meaningful way to mark and to savior the moment.
One thing is certain, the work will still be here Monday morning.
Next week, we can prepare for what ill be almost certain attacks on Medicaid, SSI, and SSDI—and we’ll need our strength and collective energy to be ready to protect them. Last night’s victory is a powerful reminder that there’s no doubt when mobilized, we can. And will again.
We’ll see you there.