Media and Politics

3 People from Tom Price’s District Who Stand to Lose Everything if Obamacare Is Repealed

Editor’s Note: Early on Friday, February 10, Representative Tom Price was confirmed as the secretary of health and human services.  

Much of the conversation around the Affordable Care Act—and its potential repeal—has focused on numbers and figures: bending the cost curve, lowering the insurance rate, or slowing health care inflation. But lost in this conversation are the millions of people who owe their medication, treatment, preventive care, and in many cases their lives to the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee the ACA repeal, has proposed a replacement for the law that would leave young people, Americans with pre-existing conditions, women, and people with disabilities at the mercy of the health insurance industry. This would quite literally put the lives of his own constituents at risk.

Below are the stories of three people from Tom Price’s district in Georgia who owe their health coverage to the Affordable Care Act.

1. Vicki Hopper

Vicki Hopper had been uninsured for nearly two years before she purchased health insurance on ACA exchanges in Georgia. Two days later she went to have a mammogram and was told to come back for a more extensive evaluation. Two days after that, she found out she had breast cancer. Since then, she has had 10 surgeries, including biopsies, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery.

In Vicki’s case, the Affordable Care Act may have quite literally saved her life. Mammograms, let alone cancer treatment and surgeries, are incredibly expensive and would have likely been impossible without health insurance coverage. Even if Vicki had found out she had breast cancer, insurance companies would have been able to charge her exorbitant rates or outright deny her coverage because cancer qualifies as a pre-existing condition. But under the ACA, routine health benefits like cancer screening, treatment, and follow-up care are required.

As Vicki told us, “If it wasn’t for Obamacare, I would be homeless.”

2. The Kush Family

Patricia Kush knows exactly how devastating an ACA repeal would be, because she remembers what life was like before Congress passed the legislation. In 2004, Patricia’s husband was diagnosed with diabetes. He was working over 40 hours a week, but his employer didn’t offer health insurance. He tried to get individual coverage through the insurance market, but insurance companies refused to cover his diabetes-related expenses. Because he couldn’t afford an expensive insurance plan and the out-of-pocket costs for diabetes medications, he went without health insurance.

In 2007, Patricia’s husband was hospitalized for serious complications from his illness. He survived, but his time in the hospital cost the couple almost $30,000. “We were lucky, Patricia says, “He didn’t die. The hospital forgave a chunk of the costs, and because of good credit, we were able to get a 10-year loan to pay off the rest of the medical bills. But not everyone is as lucky as we were.”

These days, Patricia’s husband is on her health insurance, but their future is far from secure. “If something happened to me, or I lost my job, and Obamacare had been repealed, he would be in real trouble,” Patricia says. Because he has a pre-existing condition, insurance companies would not be required to cover him if Obamacare were repealed outright. “Even though we don’t currently use the health care exchanges, I feel as if it is very important to tell our story from when my husband wasn’t able to get insurance,” she told us. “It would be devastating for so many families if Obamacare is repealed.”

3. Josh Carter

When his son was born in 2014, Josh was working in a stressful and difficult job. According to his wife Sarah, the anxiety and long hours were placing a major strain on the whole family, but they needed the job to be able to support themselves. By the time their son turned one, Josh’s health and the family’s quality of life were suffering. Josh was eventually able to find a contract job to provide for his family, with one major catch—it didn’t include health benefits. But because Obamacare provides people with access to insurance marketplaces, he was able to find health coverage for him, his wife, and his baby through the exchanges and take a new job.

As important as coverage was for Josh, it was even more important for his son. Since the ACA was passed, nearly 2 million kids have gained health insurance that includes essential screenings and immunizations. Josh’s son benefited from blood pressure screening, vision screening, lead screening, and oral health risk assessments.

“My husband would never have been able to take this opportunity if it wasn’t for the ACA and the ability to buy affordable health insurance outside of his employer,” his wife Sarah says. His contract job turned into a permanent job that he loves—an opportunity he would not have had without access to safe, affordable health care.

If Tom Price listened to his constituents, he would hear thousands of stories like these. Vicki, Patricia, Josh and their families all benefited from coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In Vicki’s case, it probably saved her life. Repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that covers the people who currently depend on it would simply cost lives.

If Tom Price is going to continue his plot to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he owes people like Vicki, Josh, and Patricia a plan that ensures they can continue to get the coverage they need.

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Culture

Why I Need to March Today

Every day since November 9, my phone has buzzed nonstop. Friends, old roommates, someone I met once at a poetry reading—they were all planning to come to DC for the Women’s March. Knowing that I’m surrounded by so many dedicated people makes me excited for the history I am about to be a part of.

I participated in the Occupy movement and I took to the streets with Black Lives Matter, but this feels different to me. It feels different because it’s about women—and because we are standing up against a demagogue and saying, “This is not the America we believe in.”

It feels like solidarity.

Not everyone feels this way. Many people were upset that the original name—Million Women March—was taken from the labors of black men and women fighting for civil rights, and early attempts by activists to make the march more inclusive of people of color were met with backlash from organizers. The name has since been changed, and the members of the committee were shown to be diverse and inclusive, but many people—women of color who were originally sidelined, and white women who are struggling with an intersectional platform that is unfamiliar to them—are still frustrated.

As a white woman, I know I have much less at risk over the next four years than many women. Women of color, or in the LGBTQ community, or who have disabilities, or women who are Muslim—they are all much more vulnerable than I can even imagine.

That is exactly why I think we need this march.

We need this march to come together first and foremost as women. We need to show our willingness to defy injustice and stand up for the values we believe in—whether it’s control over our reproductive choices, whether we marry and who we marry, fair wages, and equal opportunity. We need to come together for ourselves, our country, and the watching world.

This act of resistance will seep into our bones.

Will this march stop conservatives from defunding Planned Parenthood? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which provides contraceptive coverage for millions of women? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march protect Violence Against Women grants, which President Trump wants to defund? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march stop the parade of dubious and corrupt cabinet picks from being confirmed? Maybe, but probably not. Will this march stop President Trump from spewing hateful and dishonest rhetoric? Almost definitely not.

But that’s not what this march is for. This march will awaken something in the people who participate, not just in DC, but in the more than 600 participating towns and cities around the world. This act of resistance will seep into our bones, and help us to march on, together, in the days ahead.

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Media and Politics

Trump Just Had a Princess Bride Moment

President-elect Trump’s latest statement on Congressional Republicans’ campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act shows just how little he understands a debate that has life and death stakes for millions of Americans.

For months, Trump has been all over the map: One day he’s pledging to provide “insurance for everybody,” the next he’s considering a so-called “replacement” plan that would pull the rug out from under some 21 million seniors, people with disabilities, children, and workers.

But on Wednesday, he took his cluelessness and unpredictability to a new low when he declared, “Whether it’s Medicaid block grants or whatever it may be, we have to make sure that people are taken care of.”

As fans of the 1980s cult classic The Princess Bride, there is only one appropriate response:

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There are few surer ways to guarantee that people will NOT be “taken care of” than converting Medicaid into a block grant—a technical term that in reality means massive cuts.

Converting Medicaid into a block grant would end the program’s promise of health insurance for all eligible individuals. It would also slash the federal funding that states receive to run their Medicaid programs, forcing them either to make up the difference with money from their own coffers, or (much more likely) to make huge cuts in the coverage they provide to their residents. Faced with inadequate resources, states could have little choice but to institute waiting lists for coverage or cap enrollment—leaving millions of Americans without the care they need.

In fact, an Urban Institute analysis of a past GOP proposal to block grant Medicaid estimates that an additional 14 million to 20 million Americans would lose coverage under a Medicaid block grant—that’s on top of the 30 million who would lose coverage under ACA repeal and elimination of Medicaid expansion.

This isn’t a new idea. Congressional Republicans—including Representative Tom Price, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services—have long had Medicaid block grants on their wish list. But what’s still unclear, as Trump swings recklessly from promising universal coverage to considering slashing health care for people who can’t afford insurance, is whether the President-elect is actually changing his opinion or if he is just so ignorant on health care policy that he doesn’t understand what he’s saying.

In either case, we can be sure of one thing: Trump’s willingness to embrace life-threatening policies without even making an effort to understand them is:

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Media and Politics

What People of Color Stand to Lose if Scott Pruitt Is Confirmed for the EPA

At a Michigan campaign rally in August 2016, then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump tried to appeal to the African-American community with a hypothetical question: “What do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump?”

Now that his administration is taking shape, the answer is becoming very, very clear. His nominee for Attorney General has called the NAACP “un-American,” his nominee for the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has referred to desegregation as “a failed socialist experiment,” and his chief strategist led the website credited with making blatant racism mainstream again. Now, with the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Trump is signaling an attack on public health—which has pronounced health hazards for communities of color.

Pruitt’s confirmation hearings begin on Wednesday, and his record is providing ample questions for the process. As Attorney General for Oklahoma, Pruitt has spent much of his career trying to dismantle the EPA. He led state attorneys general efforts to sue the EPA over its Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from dirty-fueled power plants. As Attorney General, he eliminated the office’s Environmental Protection Unit. He has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations from oil and gas interests, and then repeated their calls to allow greater pollution—almost verbatim—to the very agency he is nominated to now serve. An investigation found him to be part of a secret, collaborate alliance between attorneys general and the energy industry. He also denies the science of climate change, despite global scientific agreement.

“Pruitt personifies environmental injustice,” according to Earl Hatley, Grand Riverkeeper and co-founder of the Oklahoma-based nonprofit Local Environmental Action Demanded Agency. Hatley expects Pruitt to provide the oil and gas industry exemptions from air and water protections—first by targeting the Clean Air Act, and then by remove fracking regulations. “Oklahoma is an oil state; it always has been,” says Hatley. “We’re trying to fight it, but with people like Pruitt, the pushback is really hard.”

Pruitt’s record of attacking public health, clean air, and safe drinking water safeguards should concern everyone, but African-American and Latino communities face some of the most serious health risks. Due in part to the enduring legacy of discriminatory housing policies, communities of color are more likely to have lead poisoning or contaminated water, be exposed to hazardous levels of air particle pollutants, and have their homes damaged during extreme weather.  In 2007, nearly half of all people of color in the United States—an estimated 46 percent to 48 percent—lived within six miles of a hazardous waste facility.

Given these risks, it is vital for communities of color to have an EPA Administrator who embraces the environmental justice movement, which fights to give communities of color equal access to clean air and water. The EPA has been criticized for ignoring this movement in the past, but in recent years the agency launched a series of actions to support it—including the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, which includes defining priority areas and engaging in community-based work, and provides roadmaps for outreach and engagement with tribes and communities. The EPA also released a mapping tool that illustrates exactly which communities are most exposed to pollution.

This provides some hope to communities of color, but the EPA has much more work to do.

Marginalized communities are relying on the EPA now, more than ever, to protect their health

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan—and multiple cities throughout the United States—marginalized communities are relying on the EPA now, more than ever, to protect their health from the hazards of water and air pollution. The EPA needs leadership that will protect Americans from pollution and climate change impacts, rather than destroy the EPA’s mission to give people clean air and water.

If there was any question about President-elect Trump’s interest in helping communities of color, he answered it himself. He had the option to nominate an EPA Administrator who pledged to support the agency’s mission to set and enforce air and water quality safeguards, work to reduce air and water pollution, and continue to incorporate environmental justice efforts throughout the agency. Instead, he selected a nominee who wants to attack decades of environmental progress, with no record of helping communities of color fight for environmental equality.

With Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, we have a lot to lose.

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Media and Politics

In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Not What the New York Times Reported

A November 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture examined the food shopping patterns of American households who currently receive nutrition assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) compared with those not receiving aid. Its central finding? “There were no major differences in the expenditure patterns of SNAP and non-SNAP households, no matter how the data were categorized.”

But you wouldn’t know that from reading the New York Times’ front-page story last Friday. The headline announced “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda,” and the article was flanked by photos of a grocery cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and a store aisle that is nothing but a wall of soda.

The actual conclusion of USDA’s study—“both food stamp recipients and other households generally made similar purchases”—is buried 15 paragraphs down from the sensationalized headline. The article did not initially link to or even name the study.

Soon after publication, several experts took to social media to highlight the study’s actual findings.

Joe Soss, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, pointed out that the article’s main argument—that households receiving nutrition assistance spend vastly greater shares of their grocery budgets on soda compared with other households—is directly contradicted by the report’s actual finding. The difference was incredibly slight: 5 percent versus 4 percent of a household’s grocery spending. The Times also reported that a misleadingly high 9 percent of budgets were dedicated to soda, because the article conflated soda with “sweetened drinks” (which includes many juices).

Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist, noted that the article failed to mention the food item where USDA found the biggest difference in spending: baby food. (Shame on those struggling households for feeding their children.)

There is a broader problem with this kind of reporting

Beyond the article’s inaccuracies, there is a broader problem with this kind of reporting. It reinforces an “us versus them” narrative—as though “the poor” are a stagnant class of Americans permanently dependent on aid programs. The New York Times’ own past reporting has shown that this simply isn’t the case. Research by Mark Rank, which the paper featured in 2013, shows that four in five Americans will face at least a year of significant economic insecurity during their working years. And analysis by the White House Council on Economic Advisers finds that 70 percent of Americans will turn to a means-tested safety net program such as nutrition assistance at some point during their lives.

Most families who turn to income supports like SNAP do so only temporarily, and often during periods of crisis (such as loss of a job or a medical emergency). Since today’s low wages make it nearly impossible for families to save for these emergencies, which all of us inevitably face, benefits like SNAP provide critical support. These programs help put them back on their feet—and once they are, they stop their participation.

Americans’ high level of sugar consumption, and the related health consequences, is an important discussion to have. But using a false and divisive narrative that suggests that such consumption is chiefly the purview of people who need to turn to nutrition assistance plays directly into harmful stereotypes, and risks undermining a critical program that protects nearly 5 million Americans from poverty each year. These kinds of narratives have long served as the backbone of efforts to cut safety net benefits, like SNAP, which not only help struggling families in the short-term but also boost economic mobility in the long-term, while stabilizing the overall economy.

The current political climate makes this article particularly damaging and irresponsible. It provides cover for House Republicans, led by Speaker Ryan (R-WI) and President-elect Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who are poised to move forward with long-held plans to make deep cuts to nutrition assistance and other vital supports. It also enables misguided Republican governors who have long tried to limit what households receiving assistance can spend their SNAP benefits on. These so-called “junk food bans” may sound well-intentioned, but can end up ensnaring healthy, inexpensive staples like canned tuna, dried beans, and potato salad.

If the goal is to create a nutrition assistance program that will encourage healthier eating, cuts to SNAP are exactly the wrong approach. Research shows that increasing SNAP’s modest benefits leads to healthier eating. This comes as little surprise, given that healthy food is generally more expensive. But since SNAP’s modest benefits already run out before the end of the month for most households, it is a luxury that many families cannot afford.

Maybe the New York Times could look into that.

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