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Local View: Repealing ACA puts millions of people, system at risk

No one should have to choose between seeking medical care and paying the rent — and no family should face financial ruin because of an illness or injury.

In my years as a nurse, I have seen what happens to patients who wait too long to see their doctor. Without timely care, their condition worsens and becomes more difficult and more expensive to treat.

In their rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threaten to cut-and-run on Americans, reducing health care access for millions and driving up costs for the rest of us.

Thanks to the ACA, the uninsured rate in Washington has dropped by 54 percent since 2010, expanding coverage to 537,000 more Washingtonians. Plus, premium growth has slowed for those insured through their employer. Families are paying up to $5,500 less per year than they would be had premiums continued to climb at the average rate for the decade prior to the ACA.

Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage or charge outrageous premiums to the nearly 3 million Washingtonians with a pre-existing health condition or chronic illness. The ACA also protects women from being charged more for their plan solely based on their gender.

Because of the ACA, health plans must offer preventative services such as cancer screenings and mammograms at no out-of-pocket cost, and lifetime maximums have been eliminated. We can intervene sooner to treat life-threatening conditions and your benefits will not run out in the event of a catastrophic illness.

Now it all seems at risk. Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell are playing with people’s lives.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act means nurses like me will end up caring for the stroke patient who lands in the ER because he didn’t have access to care to manage his blood pressure. If he survives, he’ll struggle with a devastating chronic disability, unable to provide for his loved ones. We could have treated his hypertension for a fraction of what will be spent on his stroke recovery — and the rest of us will share the cost through higher premiums.

Costs won’t vanish

The expense of treating the uninsured doesn’t vanish with their loss of coverage. It shifts to the remaining insured population, including those of us lucky enough to get insurance through our jobs.

No, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. But in their zeal to repeal, lawmakers risk destabilizing our entire health care system. Let’s improve the Affordable Care Act, not pull the rug out from under more than 20 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured.

Repealing the ACA without a better plan that ensures coverage for those who have it now means people will die, families will go broke and local communities will have to deal with the fallout. Nurses and health care professionals across the country must speak out about the dangers of repeal and call on our legislators to reject attempts to dismantle the ACA and work with us to improve access to health care for all Americans.

Dawnette McCloud has been a registered nurse for 34 years.  She serves as president of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, representing over 4,000 healthcare workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

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