Local concerns persist over looming GOP health care bill


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local advocates for affordable health care spoke out Tuesday against the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as part of a national day of action.

When Erin Smith was 16, she was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that results in an overproduction of white bloods cells. Smith says the blood cells normally attack illness when someone is sick, but when she’s not sick, they begin to attack her organs.

“Off my medications, I’m basically immobile,” explained Smith. “Without access to affordable health care, I cannot see my rheumatologist. She costs way too much money. I can’t afford to have my lab work done, and I definitely can’t afford all of my prescriptions.”

Erin Smith was diagnosed with Lupus at 16. Her boyfriend, pictured, relies on the Affordable Care Act for insurance.
(Courtesy: Erin Smith)

Those several daily prescriptions have kept her condition stabilized and allow her body to function.

“It’s what allows me to be a member of our workforce. It’s what allows me to help vulnerable populations in my job every single day. But, if I don’t have access to those things, I become a person who has to stay at home and get on disability,” Smith said. “I know what it’s like to call insurance companies and have them say that they can’t insure you because you have this pre-existing condition. I know how frustrating that can be.”

Under the American Health Care Act, Smith could join millions of patients across Texas with preexisting conditions who may see their health care costs skyrocket.

Smith says she’s surrounded by people on a daily basis who rely on affordable health care.

“If my boyfriend didn’t have his insurance through the Affordable Care Act right now, he wouldn’t have insurance,” said Smith. “I am incredibly grateful for the Affordable Care Act. I hated watching my boyfriend try and survive off of it, and I don’t want to watch him do that again. You don’t want to see your loved ones sick and hurting. No one does.”

Smith also works for a non-profit organization — an adoption agency — where she works with birth mothers who rely on Medicaid for their prenatal care.

“That’s how they get to see their doctors and know that their babies are healthy. If they didn’t have pregnancy medicaid, they couldn’t get prenatal care,” Smith said.

On Tuesday, several people who spoke out against the bill represent some of the 23 million people who potentially could lose insurance due to a substantial reduction in Medicaid costs. Local advocates say what could be a more than $800 billion reduction in those services would limit access to home and community based health services, and services for low income families and children.

Advocates also fear that per capita caps will punish those with serious medical needs and could result in loss of services to children in special education, as well as loss of mental and behavioral health services.

“Frankly, it is devastating. Keep in mind that this is already a low services state and they want to take us even further back, cutting attendant care [and] cutting health care,” said Dennis Borel, the executive director of Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “I don’t want good people to lose these critical services.”

However, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, says the problem is the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“Obamacare has been with us since 2016 and it’s been a terrible failure to the people who buy their insurance on the individual market,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This is just simply unsustainable, and it’s irresponsible. That’s why my colleagues and I are committed to doing something about it.”

At last report and according to a new projection, the House bill would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion over the next decade. GOP senators are expecting to begin writing their own version of the health care legislation.

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