Don’t let Congress throw away our right to health
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I spent 3 days last week sitting in a cancer care center. No one wants to be there, yet we’re all grateful that we are.

That’s the thing about health insurance. You can’t really understand its value until you urgently need it, and most of us can’t predict when that will be.

Left to their own devices, insurers would see many of us in that cancer care waiting room as a high-risk cesspool of “pre-existing conditions.” Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you could leave that waiting room with good news – remission, clearscan, good blood counts – and still be a marked person, an insurance pariah, a preexisting condition.

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Anyone who needed care deemed extraordinary — cancer, a non-malignant blood disorder (me), a pregnancy, an emergency exam after rape, diabetes… the list is long — and who had even a brief lapse in insurance coverage would find it next to impossible to get covered again.

 

Even if such a person could pay the jacked-up rates triggered by their previous illness, they would face other obstacles created by their preexisting condition.

The ACA eliminated those inequities. It also mandates essential benefits that must be covered – for example, ensuring maternity care is included in standard coverage and making moms, babies and families stronger for it.

It’s not charity to ensure people who need health care have access to services: it’s generally understood around the world as a basic human right, even in countries much poorer than the United States.

International human rights law protects the right to health, which is indispensable to the enjoyment of other rights. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including medical care, and the right to security in the case of sickness, disability and old age.

And yet Congress has worked hard over the last several months to dismantle protections for the right to health provided in the ACA. The House of Representatives in May passed a shamefully cruel law, one that even President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat O'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms MORE called mean.

This week we saw a dizzying array of procedural and substantive votes in the Senate, taking its turn to hack away at Obamacare.

The Senate's vote last night was a nail-biter, but ultimately it was Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire MORE (R-Ariz.), who has also likely spent his fair share of time at a cancer care center over the last couple of weeks, who could not support the last-ditch effort at a "skinny repeal" bill.

As of Tuesday night, the bill that gutted Medicaid for people living in poverty or with disabilities had been defeated.

No one — not even Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.), who leads the GOP in the Senate — knows what will come next.

The ACA isn’t perfect, but Congress hasn't shown itself to be seriously poised to fix any of what’s wrong with the US healthcare system. Instead, all the various plans considered by the Senate were  singularly focused on gutting protections millions of Americans rely on.

When I wait my turn at the cancer center, I find that people often scan the room without looking others in the eye. You assess age, disease progression, mood and what news they are expecting.

These last few months since the ACA debates began, I look around and think: What will these people do when they are no longer covered?

Most look to be senior citizens, and I think, they’re safe, assuming Medicare is still around to help protect them. It’s the young patients I pity, those in their 20s and 30s.

If Congress succeeds in stripping access to care, these people will suffer for decades. The cancer of their youth will limit their choices long after they become healthy, as they navigate new jobs, family commitments, or starting a business.

It will be a reminder of the cruelty of a system that does nothing to protect the human right to health.

Whatever comes next,  Senators need to hear from everyone who believes health is a human right: they need to know that no one should recover from an illness to find that they can longer afford health insurance.

Call your Senator.

It is not a time to sit back and hope the worst has past. Instead, let them know you want a health system that respects and promotes everyone's right to health.

Amanda Klasing is a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.