Detroit Free Press: U.S. Rep. Dingell: My colleagues need to understand fear across nation over health care
We return to Washington this week to an uncertain future for the Affordable Care Act. After 10 days of being home, I am more unsettled, worried and focused than ever on the responsibility we as elected officials have to our constituents.
It was a good week with many community events where people gathered for events such as fireworks, picnics, veteran meetings, student seminars, union meetings, graduations and retirements celebrations. And the routine of life also went on: church, the doctor's office, the grocery store, dry cleaners and the hardware store. Wherever I went, I have never seen such a consistent message: Don't let them take my health care away.
There is worry in people's hearts and fear and panic in many.
On my first day home, a man came up to me when I made my regular stop at Starbucks. He said he had prostate cancer and didn't know if he should move forward with radiation treatment as planned, or have surgery now in case he couldn't afford it later this year.
My next stop was shopping at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, where a grandmother, mother and her 4-year-old daughter came up to me. The mother cried about what would happen to her daughter if they took her health care away. She was desperate and didn’t know what to do.
The stories continued everywhere. Walking the parade routes for July 4th, there were shouts, “Fight harder for health care!” and “Don't let them take my health care away!” Shopping at the grocery store, taking John for his check-up at Henry Ford, dinner at Big Boy's and walking through the fountains in downtown Detroit, people stopped me to talk about health care – scared, worried and in need of answers.
Here is what the week reinforced for me: People are terrified about the future of their coverage and being able to afford health care. This health care debate is not a war of words between two parties or about scoring political points. For too many, this is about their life, the quality of their life and for some, the difference between life and death.
This week, Senate Republicans will continue their effort to scrape together the 50 votes needed to jam their repeal bill through Congress. We know that whatever cosmetic changes they make won’t change what this bill means for working families – it means 22 million Americans will lose coverage, it means the end of protections for people with pre-existing conditions, the elimination of essential health benefits like prescription drug coverage, hospital care and maternity care, the end of Healthy Michigan (Michigan's Medicaid expansion), the return of lifetime caps and devastating cuts to Medicaid.
My colleagues in Congress need to understand what the voices of Americans across the country are telling them. The stories of my district are found across this nation.
They need to know about Ryan and Elizabeth Bates and their son Jimmy, who was born 14 weeks premature. At 18 months old, Jimmy has incurred $1.5 million in medical bills due to complications surrounding his birth and developing meningitis at the age of one. Ryan and Elizabeth wonder how a middle class family could pay half a million dollars in out-of-pocket expenses if a lifetime limit of $1 million, as many plans had before the ACA, is reinstated.
They are also terrified they may not be able to afford healthcare in the future. On top of everything else, being born premature is considered a pre-existing condition.
My colleagues need to know about Stephanie from Grosse Ile. Her adult son has Down Syndrome. Medicaid pays for his prescriptions, programming and health insurance. He cannot afford to live without Medicaid and Social Security’s combined assistance.
Teri from Belleville has had Stage IV breast cancer for seven years and was laid off right when she was diagnosed. Her cancer hasn’t been responding to oral chemo options, which cost $26,000 a month, and she is now doing intravenous chemo three times a month. Without Medicaid and Medicare, she says her life will be cut short, her husband will become a widower, her daughter an orphan, and her grandchildren will lose their grandmother. She is in constant fear of losing the coverage that keeps her alive.
These are snapshots. Before the Affordable Care Act, many Americans were unable to get affordable coverage, were trapped in a job, or denied coverage because they got sick. A diagnosis of cancer for too many meant bankruptcy and possible death. Too many families were one job loss or illness away from seeing the worst of the insurance system.
We live in America. I believe every American has a right to affordable, quality health care. That is the bottom line. I will work with anybody, most assuredly across the aisle, to deliver that.
Some things in life are worth fighting for. This is a fight that defines the heart and soul of who we are as Americans.
Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Dearborn, represents Michigan's 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.