Millions will suffer. Millions more will die.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

A couple months back, while the Republican-controlled Senate was debating repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with, I dunno, already chewed gum and old man hands to grope you with, I wrote this column about what the ACA meant to my family, in particular, my three-year-old son:

It can happen to you.

If you don’t feel like taking a trip back to the pediatrics unit at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, home of kindest, most caring, most compassionate, most diverse doctors, nurses and staff in this land, here’s the view from the cheap seats of my life: My partner and I both worked for the same small software company that was acquired by a private equity firm. The first thing the new owners did was take away our robust healthcare plan and replace it with a HSA (you get out what you put in, basically.) The second thing they did was hire our successors 1,200 miles away and have us train them, all while maintaining that our jobs were safe. The third thing they did was fire us—on the same day.

We went from being a comfortable(ish) middle-class household making a combined six-figure income to nothing overnight. While we are part of the fortunate minority of Americans who had some savings for such a rainy day, all the extras were immediately cut and we pledged to live on less until we both got back to work.

As individuals who had both been employed since our early teens (her first job was at Burger King, mine was at Target) we had both always paid into the system and weren’t comfortable with the prospect of taking unemployment or subsidized health care, even on a temporary basis. But because the HSA plan from the firm that fired us was not one we would have been able to continue, we opted for private insurance for her and the ACA for myself and our son to bridge the gap.

The morning after our insurance cards arrived in the mail, our son fell ill. Five months worth of trips to the hospital later and he was better.

Had this tax cut come a year sooner and we had not been covered by the ACA:

  • The first visit to our local ER would have depleted our savings, entirely.
  • The first visit to Cottage would have liquidated our 401ks/emergency reserves.
  • The second visit to Cottage would have forced us to short-sell our home.
  • The third visit to Cottage would have resulted in the maxing out of our credit limit and possibly having to take out a high-interest emergency loan.
  • The fourth visit to Cottage would have resulted in us declaring bankruptcy.
  • The fifth visit and his surgery, well, based on our financial straits, I’m not totally sure we would have had the option at that point.

Beyond the immediate danger of decision-making for a child’s health clouded by financial judgement calls, there was the clear threat of disappearing down a crevasse that we conceivably would have never crawled out of. And that would have led to other things starting with poor credit scores that could have precluded us from clearing a potential employers’ background screening.

Would we be on the streets today? Not likely. There’s a good chance immediate family or our network of friends would have intervened and we would probably be living under another family’s roof trying to figure out how to get it back together. But the strain on all aspects of our life would have been debilitating. More importantly, the likelihood of us crawling back to normalcy, as individuals or as a couple, would have grown slimmer every day.

Instead, because we had coverage, our story went like this:

  • His hospital visits were covered.
  • His surgery was a success.
  • My partner started work again a few weeks after his operation.
  • I went back in the fall.

…And now we are, once again, contributing to the system that helped us so much in our moment of need.

Yesterday I was at work, showering after a lunch-hour run, and I ran across my badge from the hospital at the bottom of my backpack. I turned the badge over in my hands for a minute and it brought back the feelings of that time of uncertainty. We were worried about our son and his health, focused on him down to our very fiber; but we were also endlessly concerned about when and whether we’d be able to start interviewing for jobs, about the economy in general, about the political climate in this country that had changed overnight during our personal ordeal, about the everyday bills that were piling in our mailbox and being ignored while we were navigating his illness, about the short- and long-term effects it would have on him, about the durability of our relationship and our overall mental, physical and financial health and well-being.

…All this while we did have health care. All this while we knew we were covered.

The GOP’s tax plan is doing its best Annie Wilkes, rising again to create not only insurmountable income inequality, blowing up the deficit and killing the economy. It would also cut funding for Medicare and repeal the individual mandate, a key element of the Affordable Care Act. This would cause insurance premiums to skyrocket and result in states like mine no longer being able to subsidize the program—essentially killing the ACA from the inside out. Some 13 million receivers of ACA coverage will lose their insurance. Is this to save money and shrink the deficit? No. The tax plan also increases the country’s debt by at least $1.4 trillion—all to give two out of every 1,000 citizens a tax cut they don’t need.

By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut. This is the reality of the tax plan, it is to squash and silence middle- and working-class folks once and for all.

Ironically, when we file our taxes this year, we will (at least temporarily) be back in a tax bracket that would potentially benefit from this new tax plan. I suppose most people in my shoes would count their blessings and move on. I can’t. I won’t.

We got lucky, pure and simple. We are lucky, pure and simple.

But every family isn’t as lucky as we are. And we may not be as lucky the next time around. I put that hospital badge in a special spot, in a place where I will see it every day. A reminder that most Americans who find themselves in a similar situation to ours, don’t make it out.

Under this authoritarian regime, if this tax bill passes, Americans won’t be given anywhere close to the opportunity we had. This tax bill is the GOP telling the first generation of Americans, ever, they won’t have a shot to be healthy, to be happy, to strive, to make life better for themselves and their children.

Instead, the promise is we will be sick, we will be poor, we will be uneducated—and, eventually, we will be exactly as they want us to be, dead.  .

CALL YOUR SENATORS. Tell them to put country over party, people over politics. Tell them not to give the Trump family a $1 billion tax break while the rest of us suffer. Once again, lives like yours and mine—and especially those of the most innocent among us, our children—depend on your action: (202) 224-3121.

 

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