With the July recess over, Senate Republicans have returned to the Capitol with their misguided effort to repeal Obamacare, after failing to meet their goal last month. They continue to tinker with a unpopular bill designed to divert billions of healthcare dollars from low- and middle-income families to finance unnecessary multibillion dollar tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. It is the worst kind of reverse Robin Hood, because this bill will result in many deaths. And the losses will be most deeply felt in communities of color, including Latinos.
As a health policy advocate, I’ve spent months analyzing statistics that show how devastating this bill would be. A staggering 22 million people would lose coverage. Medicaid as we know it would end—its funding decimated. Federally guaranteed consumer protections would be lost.
And Latinos, the demographic group that gained the most from Obamacare, would have the most to lose. I can see the faces and hear the voices of the ones whose healthcare will be snatched away. I’ve talked with them at town halls and health expos, and answered their questions on the radio. Many will suffer, some will die.
For me, the only way to stay human is to compartmentalize. I do my best to erect a mental wall on the border between work and family.
But I have a super smart, profoundly compassionate 11-year old son who listens to the news. He wants to be a doctor, and he tends to worry. He always has questions.
The day after the election, he asked me, “Mami, how many people are going to die?”
I shouldn’t have been surprised last week when he asked, “Are we going to lose our insurance?”
“No mijito,” I answered. “We will be OK. We are lucky. Our insurance is through work.” And I believed what I said was true.
Last month, just as the 13 white men drafting the bill finally made the big reveal to the public, I wasn’t obsessing over my newsfeed. Rather, I was fulfilling an end-of-school ritual for parents of kids with chronic conditions—picking up medications.
In the school health room, I initialed and signed on the dotted line three times. First, for the pills for his ADHD. Then my son’s asthma inhaler. (And asthma, is far more common and deadly for Black and Puerto Rican kids than Whites.) And finally, for the EpiPen that would save his life if he ever had a serious allergic reaction.
In my car, looking at the hundreds of dollars’ worth of medications, my heart started to pound. I was transported back to a historic night seven years ago, watching Congress vote for the Affordable Care Act with tears in my eyes, thinking “Thank God he is finally safe!”
These days, my pulse is racing because if the Republicans have their way and this abomination of a tax bill disguised as a healthcare bill becomes law, he won’t not be safe. Nor will tens of millions of other children.
He won’t be safe because chronic conditions are considered “pre-existing conditions” and those protections will be undermined. If his father and I lose our jobs, we probably won’t find an affordable plan willing to cover him and treatment for his conditions, especially since both his parents also have chronic conditions.
He won’t be safe because states can cut the “essential benefits” insurance companies MUST cover, even for job-based insurance. Plans could be allowed to go back to not covering prescription drugs (there go his medications), or behavioral health (who will manage his ADHD?).
My son won’t be safe because states will be able to opt out of the absolute ban on annual and lifetime caps and his mom has a chronic condition that requires expensive treatment.
As bad as this sounds, for many Latino kids it will be even worse, because they rely on Medicaid to access care, which would be financially starved. Almost 11 million Latino children are covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The “Wealthcare” bill caps federal dollars, ending the 50 year federal commitment to match state funding, and slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from this critical lifeline for one in three of all Latinos and more than half the kids.
It gets worse. The financial assistance that helped millions of lower to medium income people pay for their premiums (through tax credits) and cover co-pays and deductibles for those with low incomes (subsidies) are slashed too. People will pay more for less coverage, if they can afford it. And in an especially vile and racist move, they added one egregiously mean provision that would ban several categories of legally present immigrants from buying Marketplace coverage—even with their own money! That includes crime survivors working with law enforcement, those fleeing torture and persecution, students, those with work visas and even immediate family members of U.S. citizens.
To be sure, Latinos are only one group among the tens of millions of people who will be hurt by the “Wealthcare” bill. There are more Whites than any other group who have Medicaid, and the majority of them have employer or individual coverage. Still, given Latino’s lower incomes, lack of insurance coverage through the jobs many hold, and reliance on Medicaid, the Latino community will likely feel the pain more broadly and deeply.
Latinos’ health, well-being and livelihood are being attacked on multiple fronts. Many of us feel besieged, frustrated, furious and have run out of steam. But there’s a clear and present danger to our families and we must fight back. We’ve won a battle, but the war rages on. We must fight like our lives depend on it—because they do. It’s up to us to make sure ALL of our children—and everyone else in our communities—are safe.