Hospital emergency room (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)
It has been a tumultuous week for all of us. The uncertainty about who will lead the country for the next four years has left America anxious, scared, and exhausted.
But with that question appearing settled, other threats remain. Starting Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act.
The consequences could not be more dire. As a health-care professional, I see firsthand how important access to quality, affordable health-care is to Americans—especially our country’s most vulnerable.
The timing could also not be worse. Medicaid budgets are shrinking across the country as a pandemic ravages our communities and finances.
Should the ACA be repealed, millions of Americans will lose their healthcare overnight. Premiums will skyrocket. Protections for pre-existing conditions will disappear. The tens of millions who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act will suddenly find themselves scrambling for healthcare—and likely a more expensive version than what they currently have.
It did not have to be this way. The ACA allowed states to expand Medicaid, allowing more Americans access to the core health-care program that’s benefited our country for decades. It allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ health-care plans until the age of 26. It ensured that the one-third of Americans with pre-existing conditions – like diabetes and cancer – are not discriminated against when it comes to health insurance.
I know from both work and personal experience the importance of these aspects of the ACA. As someone who has lost a loved one who battled cystic fibrosis and passed away from pancreatic cancer, I know first-hand how important these protections are, and have dedicated myself to working in healthcare to ensure that I can save as many lives as possible.
Yet for four years, President Trump, his administration, and the Republican Party have done everything in their power to dismantle the ACA and see that millions of Americans either lose their healthcare altogether or pay a higher premium for the care they deserve. The failed attempt to repeal the ACA altogether was a blow to the GOP, but thanks to their changes to the individual mandate, they now have another chance at destroying a landmark health-care law that has proven for more than a decade how valuable it is to the American people.
There have been over 100,000 new COVID-19 cases every day over the past several days. More than 1,000 Americans are dying every single day. The fact that Americans have to even worry about their access to healthcare is not only disconcerting; it’s un-American. As a health-care worker I know first-hand that we take care of one another, and I have been risking my life to save the lives of others for months now.
Despite the efforts of my colleagues and me, we are nowhere near off the hook when it comes to protecting American lives amid this devastating pandemic. We need funding for our hospitals, funding for Medicaid, funding for PPE, and broader assistance from those leading the country. It’s not just my life that depends on it, or the patients I care for in hospital beds; it’s the lives of every New Yorker and every American that are at risk.
The stakes could not be higher. The Supreme Court will rule one way or another in the coming weeks; regardless, we must find solace in unity, and that means we cannot lose hope but must be spurred to action. Under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, we can not only preserve -- or reinstate if needed -- quality, affordable health-care our fellow citizens deserve, but strengthen the laws and insure even more Americans.
Every voice matters in this fight while we wait for a ruling from the highest court in the land. Call your local representatives, call your Congressional representative, call your U.S. senators. And most of all, call your family to tell them to make calls to remind our lawmakers that healthcare should be a human right, not a privilege.
Together, we can fight this virus, and keep America healthy into the future.
Mary Maggio Fischer has worked at Flushing Hospital for 39 years and is a local political activist. She is a member of 1199 SEIU.