I would like to discuss with you a topic that has been molded into an irreducible conflict, free of being simplified by even the brightest minds, which has divided this country in half. This topic I speak of is the access to affordable health care for every single American in this country. To that end, before I go any further, I would like to take into account that I do recognize the unnecessary partisan nature of health care. But, since the latter has been taken into account, one must also take into account the vile, insensitive nature of another to advocate against a person’s human right to retain affordable health care, for whatever reason. I anticipate, however, as a public witness and as someone who stands on the frontline, the scarcity of empathy by those in opposition to the Affordable Care Act will be exposed by the heartfelt stories of Americans—on either side of the political spectrum—whose medical realities extend beyond partisan politics.
The history of America is far from being a sight for sore eyes. For that reason, I can see why one, when given the opportunity, would be hesitant or reluctant to talk about her past. Even with the overwhelming collection of evidence indicating that this country has been unfair to marginalized groups since the birth of this nation, the consensus has never come to the improbable conclusion to burn this entire “house” down in hopes of “forming a more perfect union.” That is because you do not just scrap the whole thing as though it is a rusty old car that has seen its fair share of miles, especially not when scrapping it causes more harm than good. That type of extremism would thwart the essence of our democracy. To those thinking that that analogy is a little far-fetched, I speculate you have never had to gaze into the eyes of someone—who has done everything this country has asked one to do—only to fall short of being able to afford health care for themselves and/or for their families. The truth is that nearly half of this country does not know how to deal, or worse does not want to deal, with the simple fact that a Black president took the bold leap—yet imperfect leap—to implement a policy that would provide access to affordable health care.
People are scared, and for good reason, that their health care will be stripped from their grasps. According to the CBO’s recent grade of the ACHA, nearly 26 million Americans falling under the protections of the ACA will be adversely affected by this measure by 2026. What is more and even more worrisome, the CBO reported that 14 millions Americans will lose their health coverage almost immediately.
Just the other day, I was in Topeka, Kansas at Senator Bernie Sanders’ rally. It was the last stop in a week-long trip which covered six cities and four states in six days, including Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Tallahassee, Florida. One thing that showed up in Topeka, if nothing else, was the “will” of the American people. You could feel it in the air. Standing in the numbing cold, in a line wrapped around Topeka High School as though the second coming of Jesus was descending upon Topeka, was a groundswell of concerned Kansasians and Missourians ready to hear the voice of their leader.
Before the rally began, I searched for people, walking up and down the line, explaining my existence to whoever would listen. I would introduce myself, “Hello, my name is Cirilo,” going on to say “I’m with the Save My Care team. We have been traveling across the country for the last month collecting stories of Americans who have been impacted by the ACA since it was signed into law.” Once I realized I grabbed their attention, I would simply ask the group, “Would any of you, if this applies, be willing to tell your story of how the ACA has impacted your life?”
One story really stuck out to me. A woman approached me from the line, insisting that her story should be heard. “I’m willing to tell my story,” the woman said. Of course I did not object because listening to her story, and the stories of others, is precisely what I came there to do. I did not ask her age—which I never would because any man knows you do not ask for a woman’s age unless she offers it—but if I had to guess, I would have said mid-forties. As she stood in front of me, I could not help but notice the distinguished red wool pea coat she was wearing. She looked at me with the great compassion. As she took off her shades, her engaging brown eyes drew me in almost instantly. She spoke with a degree of candor which I perceived to be therapeutic for her. Perhaps, this was her moment to release something that she had been harboring for quite some time.
She explained to me that she is a single mother and an educator, at which point I thought to myself—could this woman be teaching the children of the same parents so willing to strip her of her health care? And if these parents knew this very fact, would they still advocate for the repeal? I am not prepared to answer that, which, notably, has little to do with whether or not I actually know the answers to these questions, but more so due to the fact that it would be another opportunity to reveal the questionable attitude we have towards one another as human beings.
And so, her story continued The educator further explained that she was uninsured for nine years — nine years! — prior to ACA becoming a law, which by the way, could not have come at a better time. It was literally “Heaven sent,” according to her testimony. With her voice quivering and tears beginning to swell in her eyes, she went on to explain to me that her health had been deteriorating in the year leading up to ACA’s enactment. She did not understand why on earth she was vomiting almost every other day along with other complications. It was not until she was able to afford a physician under the ACA coverage that she was diagnosed and treated for her illness. A smile surfaced the corner of her mouth as she relayed how fortunate she was to receive treatment. While she was uncertain the ACA actually saved her life, it indubitably saved her from dealing with a chronic illness. The domino effect would have led to her early retirement, leaving her unable to provide for her daughter. Needless to say, the ACA works, period.
As I reflect on Kansas, another story comes to mind. I am reminded of the mother and son who courageously shared with me their remarkable journey, before and after the ACA. My God! is all I could think as the words rolled off this mother’s tongue. Her son, whose name I will not mention, was born with a rare disease called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition which, tragically, caused her son to be born with half a heart. At birth, this heroic young man was given three years to live: indeed, the ambivalence of life could never be more true. Fifteen years later, he stood before me, eyesight returning just the day before, to see Senator Sanders speak.
What really resonated with me, was the reason he did not want to, at first, share his story with me. It was not just for the sake of anonymity, which would have been totally fine with me. To tell the bitter truth, he was afraid that his “anti-ACA” aunt and uncle, who he loved dearly, and who he was excited to see for this spring break in two weeks, would learn of his affinity towards the ACA, killing his chances of visiting them. Even at the tender age of eighteen he understood, to a certain degree, the complexities of insufferable arrogance in which one has made the broken decision, even if it is at the demise of a family member, to place their own self-interests over human life. The uneasiness one must feel to discern that a family member, flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood, would go to length of their political spectrum is unfathomable. But that uneasiness does not negate the historical precedence of people placing their self-interests and self-preservation before another, even family, which does not surprise me.
One thing I am certain of is that life is short—too short. To those whom have invested their time to read this, let the told and untold stories serve as a gut-wrenching reminder that the Affordable Care Act protects our fellow Americans from having to make the disheartening decision to either feed their family or receive health care and provides a pathway to live a full life, to have access to preventative care, and to not be denied because of pre-existing conditions. Indeed, affordable access to health care is a pathway to the America’s Promise which calls on every American to love one another enough to decide health care is a right—not a privilege.
Ask yourself, if the ACHA was as good as Republicans make it sound, don’t you think one of them would have taken ownership of it?
Have you or your family benefited from the Affordable Care Act? If you’d like to share your story on HuffPost, email us at ACAstories@huffingtonpost.com.