As a person with a disability and the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I urge all people with disabilities to elect a President who has the ability and motivation to protect and expand upon that landmark accomplishment. And if every "disability voter" were to vote for the candidate who is best for people like them, I believe the choice becomes quite clear.
For starters, I have lost count of how many times Republicans have sworn to demolish the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and with it, the tremendous advance we have made for people with disabilities by ending coverage discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions. They talk out of both sides of their mouths, often expressing support for access to insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, while making it their number one priority to repeal it.
Simply put, a candidate for us is a candidate that guarantees access to insurance for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
Almost half of the American population between the ages of 55-64 has a pre-existing condition, and twenty percent of our young adults age 18-24 have one. The impact of access to meaningful insurance coverage that bans lifetime and annual limits for essential benefits is immense. Yet, Republicans can't even talk about improving upon the ACA, thereby protecting access to insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, for fear that its ultimate success will be attributed to a Democratic administration - politics as usual.
People with disabilities have had enough of watching Republican candidates avoid us - and avoid any mention of their dastardly work to kill the international Disabilities Treaty - Senator Ted Cruz chief among them. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (or "Disabilities Treaty") embodies, at the international level, the ADA principles of non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, accessibility and inclusion. It had strong bipartisan support, in large part due to advocacy from former Republican Senator Bob Dole, who stated, "It's a shame the only countries who haven't ratified that treaty are the Congo, Guyana and the United States of America, and we are the leader in disability issues and dealing with the problem."
On the Democratic side, despite the best of intentions, Senator Bernie Sanders is advocating a "Medicare for All" policy that I believe to be almost as dangerous as the Republican "repeal and replace" strategy for health reform. He proposes something akin to socialized medicine, modeled after the British National Health Service, a plan commonly known to be extraordinarily expensive. If it were a good idea, we could have a discussion about how to pay for it. The problem is that it's not only unrealistic, but it reflects a leap backward for people with disabilities. As in Great Britain, "Medicare for All" would have to rely on bare-bones coverage, certainly less robust than provided under the ACA for individuals with pre-existing conditions despite his grand assertions. Under the British model, a socialized medicine program would have to rely on what I call "one-size-fits-all" healthcare where access is limited based on value assessments like quality adjusted life years (QALYs) that measure the value of healthcare treatments based on an academic formula. As I have written before, for people with disabilities, this is a very bad deal.
In stark contrast to these extremes, there's the enlightened, yet sensible, approach promoted by Secretary Hillary Clinton. She's not looking to repeal and replace the ACA and threaten all the good that has come from it. She's not looking to move to European-style socialized medicine. Instead, she recognizes the benefits of the ACA for providing access to coverage - especially for those with pre-existing conditions that were previously left behind, but also recognizes that our health care programs have room for improvement.
As a young adult, my diagnosis with epilepsy took away my ability to get a job, my driver's license, my health insurance and, ultimately, my dream of becoming a Catholic priest. It is my history with epilepsy that led me to author the ADA, to continue my advocacy for people with disabilities, and to stay engaged in politics. It is the reason I want a President that is accountable to people with disabilities.
We must judge our leaders by their ability to get beyond the politics of the day and make the tough decisions to do what is right for the most vulnerable among us - the ones that most rely on government policies and protections for their quality of life. People with disabilities cannot afford to allow the extremes on both sides to undermine the rights we have achieved. With our voice and our vote, we can hold our leaders accountable for building on the disability rights movement and protecting our access to insurance.