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Repealing Health Reform: What's in It for Us? That Is the Question

January 26, 2011

Phill Wilson

Last week the leadership of the House of Representatives began fulfilling its campaign promise to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as health care reform. The nonpartisan and independent Congressional Budget Office wrote a letter to Republican Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner of Ohio, to advise him that repealing ACA "would probably increase the federal budget deficit over the 2012–2019 period by a total of roughly $145 billion," not decrease it, as its detractors would like us to think.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also published a report quantifying the numbers of Americans who could lose their insurance if health reform is repealed. According to DHHS some 50 to 129 million -- that's 19 to 50 percent -- of non-elderly Americans have at least one pre-existing condition, a health disorder that exists before a person applies for or enrolls in a new health insurance policy. This includes illnesses like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

The report also showed that up to 20 percent of Americans with preexisting conditions are uninsured -- that's as many as 25 million people! Under the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2014, both folks with preexisting conditions and those who lack health insurance can no longer be denied insurance coverage. They cannot be charged significantly higher premiums than other Americans; they cannot be made to wait for an extended time for benefits; nor can their insurance company curtail those benefits because they have reached some arbitrary annual or lifetime spending cap set by their insurance company.

As the legislators the public has elected engage this process, it's important for us to know what provisions of the ACA can benefit us and what's at stake if the law is repealed.

I find it interesting that the House leadership did not even entertain debating the issue or any objective analysis or discussion of it; their goal was repeal -- come hell or high water. That's extremely unfortunate, because for millions of Americans, having affordable and accessible health care is not about politics or some theoretical idea: We face real issues that impact our lives every day in tangible and quantifiable ways. It is often matters of life and death.

To put the situation into perspective, let's examine the tragic life-threatening situation facing Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. By all accounts Representative Giffords has received the best health care that America has to offer. We are all grateful for that. In spite of that experts agree that she is in for a long and very expensive recovery. Fortunately, Rep. Giffords is covered by a very generous health plan afforded to all members of Congress by the American public.

However, if Gabrielle Giffords were you or me, recovering from her gunshot wound would probably cause her to reach both her annual and lifetime health-benefit caps -- and perhaps in not too much time. At that point her insurance company would have the right to deny her coverage, and she and her husband might find themselves on their own, with enough hospital bills to bankrupt them and still be in need of care.

This shouldn't happen to Rep. Giffords, and it shouldn't happen to any of us. I find it particularly problematic that the very legislators who want to repeal healthcare reform are insulated from the negative consequences to the American taxpayer whose health plan they want to cut off.

Because of the generous health care plan that we pay for, Congressional representatives would not be subject to health insurance companies discriminating against them because they have diabetes, hypertension or HIV; they would not be vulnerable to annual or lifetime benefit caps; they would not lose access to prescription drug benefits no matter how expensive the medications get or how ill they may become; they would not be vulnerable to vagaries of AIDS Drug Assistance programs (ADAP). But if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, many of us would loose all of these protections.

For more than three-quarters of a century, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have attempted to negotiate health care reform. Now that the legislation has finally been passed, we the people need to understand exactly how repealing the law would affect us. We need to demand that our representatives explain to us how rolling it back works in our favor. What will we gain if they take away protection from discriminatory practices, arbitrary caps and access to life-saving prescription drugs? Independent analysis shows that we do not gain either a balanced budget or reduced deficits, as proponents of repealing these benefits claim.

The leaders who want to take back our health benefits should clearly articulate why we should give them up and what independent body can substantiate their claims.

Until then, let's not get distracted by their political mumbo-jumbo. Let's focus on the facts and communicate with our elected officials what we expect them to do in our name.

Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. He can be reached at

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This article was provided by The Black AIDS Institute. It is a part of the publication Black AIDS Weekly. Visit Black AIDS Institute's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
U.S. Health Care Reform


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