CLAS Column: A Voice from Student Government

On May 4, 2017, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the first part in a three-phase plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Proponents of the bill claim that it will drastically cut healthcare costs while solving many of the current problems with the ACA and also retaining its beneficial aspects. While the American Health Care Act may cut the national deficit by over $300 billion over the course of a decade and decrease average premiums after an intermittent two-year increase, the Congressional Budget Office also estimates that by 2026, 52 million Americans will be uninsured, nearly double the current projections of 28 million under the Affordable Care Act, essentially abandoning the key goal of health reform.

This reform is long overdue. According to the World Health Organization, the United States is the only developed nation in the world without universal health care. Instead, the majority of US citizens have to rely on private insurance companies. In 2014, an insurance mandate was instilled to attempt a transition toward universal health care as part of an endeavor set forth by the UN member states. The overarching mentality in the U.S. is that health insurance is a commodity rather than a right, though it seems that the rest of the developed world would disagree.  Healthcare is a fundamental and universal socio-economic human right to which all individuals should be entitled, and the United States may soon regress even further among developed nations if it adopts these proposed policies.

As healthcare costs escalate at alarming rates, Trumpcare isolates the low-income, elderly, and sick, abandoning those most in need of health insurance. Essentially, the bill delineates premium reductions for healthier and well-off individuals and decreases national spending at the cost of millions of lives. Even those with employer-based coverage find themselves on uneven ground as the employer mandate put in place by the ACA is repealed by the AHCA. While young people such as Brooklyn College students are usually among the healthiest in our society, they are also some of the most economically vulnerable, and therefore may be seriously threatened by the changes the AHCA would bring about.

While young adults will retain ACA’s provision to remain on their parents’ healthcare insurance until the age of 26, and while 10% more adults ages 19-34 were covered by insurance under the ACA, this progress is now in jeopardy. Most likely to lose coverage are low-income students, students with disabilities, students suffering from very common-place pre-existing conditions and mental health issues, and women. For example, the AHCA will deplete funding to Planned Parenthood, America’s largest women’s health care provider which supplies resources to more than 84% of women age 20 and older. Most egregiously, the term “pre-existing conditions” will be expanded to include such a large variety of circumstances that almost every American will have one, and their premiums and care will suffer accordingly.

Although the AHCA prohibits denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, it includes an option for states to opt-out. Obamacare federally ensured coverage of ten essential health benefits, including mental health care and maternity care. However, Trumpcare will allow states to waive this regulation and define their own list of what they consider “essential” health benefits. This could potentially result in either no coverage or coverage at steep and inaccessible costs for the average consumer. Therefore, despite Trumpcare covering pre-existing conditions, if states opt-out and you have a pre-existing condition that is not considered an essential health benefit, then you will not be covered. With the expanded definition of “pre-existing conditions,” this will likely leave huge portions of the population without adequate healthcare.

The AHCA still needs to pass through the Senate to reach the President’s desk and become law, but it represents a daunting trend in our healthcare policy, one that will certainly impact the students at Brooklyn College as they become older and more susceptible to poor health. We may not see its detrimental effects right away, but as the newest generation of American voters and healthcare recipients, we have to ask ourselves if this is the route we want to take. The United States is already behind other developed countries in terms of healthcare, and the AHCA is another step down the ladder. As America’s present and future voters, patients, medical professionals, lawyers, politicians, and activists, it is time that we started fighting for and implementing positive change.

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