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Opinion

This Stops Now: An HIV Advocates' Guide to Killing the American Health Care Act

May 6, 2017

American Health Care Act

Credit: BackyardProduction via iStock


You can do plenty right now to ensure that the gains of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aren't wiped away, and a plethora of resources are at your disposal -- many of them from HIV advocacy organizations.

On Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump stood in front of a gaggle of preening House Republicans at a White House Rose Garden ceremony and sounded the ACA's death knell. "It's dead," Trump said, squeezing a smirk from the face of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who stood behind him. "It's essentially dead." Behind the President, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise softly chuckled at the remarks, evidently tickled pink by the idea of stripping 24 million Americans of their health care insurance. Everywhere you looked, a sea of predominantly peach-colored faces was projecting unrestrained joy at the prospect of charging a woman more for insurance because she was pregnant or suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a sexual assault. This ceremony was nothing less than a party to celebrate the unnecessary and unjust suffering of the poor, the sick and the marginalized in exchange for a tax cut for the obscenely rich. It was a direct attack on the health and wellbeing of everyone in this country living with a pre-existing condition, including all people living with HIV.

It is easy to look at the House's passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and despair. After the initial version of the Republican's health care bill failed to make to a floor vote back in March, many of us were lulled into a false sense of security, believing that all of the rights afforded to us by the ACA would be left untouched. Now that the delusion has passed that the GOP's attack on our health care would fade away, we can regroup and make sure that, not only will the AHCA fail to make it out of the Senate alive, but all Republicans who voted for it face such a severe backlash in the 2018 midterms that, should they be lucky enough to be re-elected, they shudder at the thought of pursuing any legislation that takes away health care protections from the American people.

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From this moment forward, it is our duty to let our members of Congress know in no uncertain terms that, if they vote to repeal the ACA and replace it with a poorly concealed tax cut for the wealthy, the HIV community will hold them accountable and hound them relentlessly for leaving their constituents for dead. We will flood their congressional offices with calls to the point that the interns who answer their phones see our numbers flashing before them when they close their eyes. We will continue to demand that our members of Congress hold town hall meetings during recesses so that we can voice our concerns and, if they choose to hide from their constituents, we will meet them at their offices and outside any events they attend -- public or private. And people living with and affected by HIV will tirelessly take to the streets in solidarity with one another and with everybody who lives with a pre-existing condition and would see their insurance costs skyrocket under the AHCA.

It is imperative that the HIV advocacy community never forgets that its voice is a powerful, booming weapon with the capacity to both inspire and strike fear in the hearts of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. We have allies in Congress: men and women who work doggedly on our behalf to make sure that the Medicaid services utilized by more than 40% of people living with HIV in care are not only preserved, but expanded, and who are fighting to bring Americans the Medicare for All, single-payer health care system that we deserve. But, we also have members of Congress who have traded in the health and security of their constituents for a $600-billion tax cut for the wealthy, and they must be held to account.

The 2018 midterm elections are only 18 months away, and all representatives who sowed the wind by voting for the AHCA -- particularly those from districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, such as Peter Roskam (IL-6), Darrell Issa (CA-49), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26) and Martha McSally (AZ-2) -- are made to reap the whirlwind of their actions. At the same time, we must be relentless in our advocacy towards senators who have been handed this hideous excuse for a health care bill, letting them know that support for any legislation resembling the AHCA in its current form will have dire political ramifications.

If you want to tell your members of Congress right now how unacceptable the AHCA is for people living with HIV, you can head over to AIDS United's Policy Action Center and let them know in a matter of minutes. Or, use this primer on "bird-dogging" from Housing Works to learn how to compel your representatives to address issues they'd rather sweep under the rug. Leaving the HIV-specific sphere, crowdsourced anti-Trump resistance sites such as Indivisible and progressive campaign organizing sites such as Swing Left are excellent resources for anyone seeking to get involved in grassroots action at the local and district levels.

As much as it may hurt right now, we must not let go of the image of the Republican establishment rejoicing at the prospect of inflicting devastation and heartache on the tens of millions of Americans who live with pre-existing conditions. Sit with the feeling of desperation that the House's passage of the AHCA stirs inside you and, instead of allowing it to paralyze you with fear, make it drive you to action.

Drew Gibson is a freelance writer and a policy associate at AIDS United in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter at @SuppressThis or visit his blog "Virally Suppressed," which covers a multitude of issues related to public health and social justice.


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