Lu, who served as the Deputy Secretary of Labor during the Obama Administration, is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center; Ko Chin is the President & CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.
The repeated efforts by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can feel endless — legislators keep reviving our deepest fears about how to keep our loved ones and ourselves healthy. Even though repeal was defeated in the Senate just a few months ago, there is a new bill that is as bad as, if not worse than, the previous version.
There will be devastating consequences for tens of millions of Americans — particularly those who are the most vulnerable. For communities of color, including Asian Americans as well as Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) Graham-Cassidy would return us to the days of discriminatory and exclusionary health coverage.
Yet, if Graham-Cassidy becomes law, up to 32 million Americans could lose health coverage. States would be able to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, a key protection that deeply impacts the Asian American and NHPI community, which suffers disproportionately from chronic hepatitis B, liver and stomach cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis. Half of Asian Americans and NHPIs are estimated to have diabetes or pre-diabetes – conditions that could lead to premium increases of $5,600 under Graham-Cassidy. The premium increase for a pre-existing condition of cancer would exceed the annual income of most Asian American families.
The latest Senate proposal also would end the financial assistance that has made health care affordable to most Americans. These tax credits help people buy health insurance for the first time so they can see a doctor, get a check-up and purchase needed medication. More than eight in 10 previously uninsured Asian Americans and NHPIs qualify for financial assistance under the ACA. Ending financial assistance will once again put health coverage out of reach for too many.
Worse still, the repeal bill would end Medicaid as we know it by capping federal funding and diminishing coverage for the most vulnerable populations. Over time, states will have to make cuts in services, which, again, would severely impact communities of color. One in six Asian Americans and one in three Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders rely on Medicaid as their only form of health coverage. For other racial groups, the effects of Graham-Cassidy’s Medicaid cuts would be equally devastating. Currently, Medicaid covers 33% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics.
As health advocates, this terrifies us. But it really terrifies people like Mee Pwa, a mom of four supporting not just her family but also her own parents. Medicaid pays for her daughter’s monthly hospital visits to check on her kidneys and for her child’s medical supplies and care. In short, Medicaid keeps her child alive.
Graham-Cassidy and its supporters have no answer for how Mee Pwa will be able to afford care for her child. Her family income is barely over $1,200 a month. This latest effort to repeal Obamacare, like all of the ones before it, causes parents like Mee Pwa to fear for their children’s lives.
Congress needs to move from a strategy of stripping coverage from millions to one that will actually improve our health care system. We owe it to our families, friends and communities to do everything possible to protect their right to a healthy future.