Eight years after it was signed into law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is once again under attack by President Trump and the Republicans in Congress. I should be used to it by now. The Trump administration has worked to sabotage the ACA since day one. But it’s still hard to believe that policymakers, who have the power to make things better for everyday Americans, would choose, instead, to take away the progress we’ve made so far – especially when millions of lives are on the line.
During my senior year of college, I started to feel exhausted all the time. It was hard to focus, and I missed too many classes, but I kept pushing through. After graduation, I started studying for the GRE so that I could apply for graduate school and pursue a career in writing and directing for television. But my unexplained symptoms made it impossible to study or find work.
Then I lost vision in my left eye. I went to a doctor who diagnosed it as optic neuritis, one of the first signs of multiple sclerosis (MS). My plans came to a crashing halt.
I couldn’t afford health insurance, and I didn’t know where to turn. I applied for Medicaid and was denied four times. The first two times, I was denied because I was unemployed – even though my symptoms made it impossible to find full-time work. I tried to apply as my mother’s dependent, but her income was too high for us to qualify. I started to give up hope.
Then, after Tom Wolf was elected governor, I got a letter saying I was approved. I’ve since learned that I was able to receive coverage due to Medicaid’s expansion under the ACA.
I was suddenly able to get the MRI that I needed to confirm a MS diagnosis and begin treatment. I can now afford to see a neurologist twice a year – and undergo disease modifying therapy, which reduces MS flare-ups and may prevent future lesions from forming in my brain and spinal column. The medications I’m prescribed are very expensive, but I’ve had to pay only a $3 copay.
Thanks to these treatments, some of my symptoms have gone into remission. With regular visits to see my primary-care physician, I’ve been able to stick to a healthier way of living that supports my treatment: eating well, losing weight, and keeping up with my appointments.
I could lose that – and all of my treatment – if the Trump administration’s effort to dismantle the ACA succeeds. Despite multiple failed attempts to repeal the law through Congress, Trump has continued to chip away at the ACA: issuing a new rule to roll back the ACA’s contraceptive coverage mandate, signing a new executive order that did away with consumer protections, and ending cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments. And he has repeatedly threatened or proposed to make drastic changes or cuts to Medicaid, including imposing punitive work requirements that will make it harder for people such as me to get the care we need.
The result? Insurance companies can once again discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Millions of women could lose access to birth control. Premiums are on the rise while bare-bones insurance plans become more available. And my access to the care I need hangs in the balance.
Trump’s partisan games have real consequences for real people. Without access to Medicaid, I wouldn’t be able to maintain stability. I have two lesions in my cervical spine that can lead to total and permanent paralysis if they go untreated. Instead of being able to live my best life, I would need constant care and support.
I’m not the only one whose health is on the line. Already, many are being priced out of health care, with premiums here in Pennsylvania rising by more than 30 percent in the last year. Nationwide, five million more Americans are expected to become uninsured by 2019.
That’s why I’ve been telling my story and why I’ve been calling my representatives at the state and national level.
My message to politicians is clear: Be careful. This is an election year, and I will remember where you stood on health care. And I’m not the only one.
Adrianne Gunter is a resident of Philadelphia diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and is a member of Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN).