AHCA will make our economy sick

Our country can’t afford the American Health Care Act (AHCA). When 23 million people lose their health insurance, our whole economy gets sick.

By now most of us know that the AHCA’s biggest funding cut,  $834 billion, will be to Medicaid. All adults with Medicaid are low income, and the majority of them work. Losing their insurance will reduce these individuals’ access to care and worsen their health. This, in turn, will hurt their ability to work and decrease their take-home pay.

I have seen this chain of events firsthand through my work at a nonprofit that fights the causes and effects of poverty. Recently, a graduate of our workforce training program named John was hired to work night shifts at a downtown hotel.

The pay was good, but the job didn’t come with benefits. John discovered that his new schedule exacerbated his sleep apnea, but without health insurance, he couldn’t afford the CPAP machine used to treat it. His exhaustion began to affect the quality of his work. Ultimately, he was fired for falling asleep on the job.

Stories like John’s are all too common, as almost none of the participants in our workforce program have health insurance. When the working poor have less pay and higher medical bills, there are several economic effects such as lower consumer spending. Yet, the AHCA’s most far-reaching side effect will be crippling inequality.

Inequality doesn’t just impact the poor; it inhibits economic growth. Research by the International Monetary Fund shows that, for every one percentage point increase in income for the top fifth of earners, GDP growth decreases by .08 percentage points. In English, this means that as the rich get richer, the economy slows down. Conversely, when the poor get less comparatively so, economic growth actually increases. Everybody wins when the worst-off do better.

Greater inequality threatens more than the economy. Extensive research by the World Bank and others links it to poor health and wellness outcomes society-wide. These outcomes include lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality rates, worse mental health and less happiness.

Currently, the U.S. is the most unequal country in the developed world. By contrast, Iceland has one of the lowest levels of inequality, and its citizens can expect to live 4 years longer than Americans. Researchers say this is not only driven by worse health for the poor; the affluent are also less healthy.

Medical costs go up as health goes down, of course. As Warren Buffett recently said, skyrocketing medical expenses, at 17 percent of GDP, are hindering American businesses’ competitiveness. This could hurt our stock market and jeopardize jobs, further risking workers’ insurance, income and health. As our health gets worse, the economy suffers, and our health gets even worse. We are trapped in vicious cycle that will spiral downward until we finally address healthcare costs head on.

When our citizens are sick, our economy can never be well. Call your Senator and ask her or him to protect our future by funding Medicaid at current levels.

Annie Lord is Chief Program Officer at CitySquare in Dallas. She earned her B.A. and Master of Public Policy degrees at Harvard University. She is a Dallas Public Voices Fellow.


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