Dear @SpeakerRyan and the @GOP,
Here’s a picture of me waiting to learn the details of how the #AHCA would impact my healthcare via preexisting conditions & Disability, taken while I get my 6hr immunotherapy infusion. Treatment for my progressing, incurable, neurodegenerative, autoimmune disease.
Just so you know, without the #ACA I wouldn’t have healthcare coverage at all and, after a grueling 6 years of trying every medication available for Multiple Sclerosis, and having them fail, I wouldn’t have access to the immunotherapy concoction that has allowed me to remain mobilie and keep my eyesight from failing regularly.
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I had no healthcare coverage in the US. I was studying overseas and came home for a friend’s wedding. Then I went blind in one eye. I tried to ignore the symptoms for a week, hoping they might go away, knowing I had no healthcare coverage and couldn’t afford an ER visit. A week later, it got worse, and I spent 7 days in the hospital. 7 days that would start a stream an insane number of tests, seizures, falling, and more. I could barely find a doctor that would see me, and all of this was paid out of pocket. The bills were insane, in the thousands within a month or so. This process took everything I had, literally and figuratively. It was only thanks to SSI disability assistance that I was able to find a place to live and feed myself.
Yes, SSI disability not SSDI. It turns out, the time I spent working for the state, and a state-funded agency that didn’t pay into social security, meant I was just 2 quarters short of the required amount of work to receive full disability coverage. Those 5 years of work didn’t count, and there was nothing I could do about it despite being 15 when I got my first job. I was more than broke. I was in debt. Trying to be a good citizen, I paid my bills with everything I had, including student loans I had intended to use to finish my degree. It was thanks to the incredible kindness of my friends – one of whom allowed me to live on her floor for over a year – that I wasn’t homeless. All this while learning that I now had a diagnosed, therefore preexisting, neurodegenerative disease. Lucky for me, the #ACA took effect, and thanks to it, while having nothing at all to my name, I was able to get healthcare. Finally, after almost a year of accruing medical debt.
The reality of my financial situation, and the unpredictable nature of Multiple Sclerosis and its impact on my ability to function well enough for any regular job, means that I must remain below the poverty level in order to remain on healthcare and have a roof over my head, something that you seem to believe is a luxurious life I’m living on the tax payer’s dime. Every month I hope I am able to make ends meet, maintain my independence, and have to remind myself that I am a worthy member of society and I deserve treatment for my condition.
I haven’t even mentioned the reality of learning that my brain was eating itself alive. That I would slowly get sicker and sicker, likely end up immobile, and a million other things that come with life with Multiple Sclerosis (and the co-morbid autoimmune diseases I hadn’t yet realized I had). The reality of my condition was enough to bear. The treatments, side effects, and ever-increasing failure of my body was enough trauma to induce its own medical PTSD, but again I continued on thanks to determination, desperation, and the kindness of the people around me. I haven’t talked about the half-written dissertation that held all the passion of years of work that would be my career, how I would change lives, and that will never be finished now. All of this is an aside to this conversation but gives a bit of context through which you can view what I’m telling you.
When the #ACA passed I had visions of future policy discussions, dialogues about improving the system, maybe even seeing disabled Americans of all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, racial/ethnic backgrounds as deserving of QUALITY of life, not just as those humans you’ve ‘given the privilege to continue to live’. I had such incomprehensible thoughts about being seen as someone who has a contribution to make regardless of my health, that the United States is a place where you are supported when you’re struggling, and thought maybe we can do that in a way that helps people flourish. Ridiculous, right? I can hear you laughing.
You and your party have proven those thoughts to be nothing more than laughable, a pipe dream. Beyond that, you’ve decided it’s time to revoke that ‘privilege to live’ you bestowed upon me. That fear you use as a tool was so successful this election- that fear you instilled in so many. Fear of the other, the struggling, the afraid; fear of those whose lives have hit rock bottom or lives that could be beautiful but require a long-term helping hand. With that fear fostered, hate and blame given the biggest of platforms, you have decided now might be time to take back that privilege to live. Yep, you might wanna revoke that ‘hand out’ because anyone of us ‘could be’ choosing a life of poverty, stealing from the hard-working Americans …that we aren’t… because we need help. You embrace this, I suppose you always have, and use it in your daily dialogue discussing which of us truly deserve the help we need to simply survive and what, in your opinion, isn’t really essential to our existence.
So today, as has been the case for the last 6 months, I sat and watched my life discussed as something we may just have to sacrifice so wealthy people can be wealthier and you can have a win for your party and the president. Congrats, it has dominated the news cycle in such a way that every mention of the #AHCA leaves me on the verge of a panic attack. That probably sounds silly to you. Probably because nothing you just read is new information or particularly meaningful to you and your goals. My story doesn’t evoke empathy beyond that momentary trained reaction to someone’s sad story.
No, my story doesn’t remind you that this is the story of a huge number of Americans that you represent, or of human beings in need of support. It doesn’t even help you connect your policy goals to the fact that this is something that could happen to anyone, to someone you love, or even to you. The truth is, you are fully aware of all the things I have discussed here. You’ve heard stories like mine, you know people like me. The truth is that you understand what your tax cuts and health care plans mean to someone like me. You repeat these party lines about maintaining accessibility despite cuts, caring about pre-existing conditions by claiming we will always have ‘access’ since insurance companies won’t be allowed to refuse us outright. You repeat this over and over, completely aware of the difference between availability and accessibility. I can’t honestly believe that you do not understand the difference. I cannot believe that you’d assume the homeless man standing by the door to a restaurant you are walking into has access to dining there, simply because he can walk through the door. You are intelligent men.
All of this leads me to conclude that you must truly lack empathy for a good portion of your fellow Americans. It seems reasonable to assume that you care more about your reputation and political power than the lives of others. At the very least, it is incredibly easy for you to forget we exist. You won’t see the blood on your hands if you accomplish even half of your goals, and THAT is the scariest part of all of this.
So enjoy this picture. I am back home now and will be spending the night on the bathroom floor. Be aware, at least one of the moments I find myself retching in the toilet tonight will be at the thought of such incredibly thoughtless, heartless, men and women, celebrating the idea that they may be able to “rid the American taxpayers of the burden” of me and people like me.
NFN- A Chronically Ill, Disabled, Latina who Votes
P.s. Please feel free to prove me wrong on all points. I’m an open minded person and always willing to rethink my opinions, maybe you are too.