I'm a disabled sexual assault survivor — this is what the AHCA means for me
Last week, House Republicans voted to repeal and replace Obamacare. If the American Health Care Act passes in the Senate, 24 million people will lose their access to health insurance. Secondly, people with pre-existing conditions would also lose their coverage. We’ve asked HelloGiggles contributors to discuss how the AHCA would hurt them.
When I was growing up, my parents would talk to medical professionals about ways to possibly treat me without recording an official diagnosis.
When my doctors suspected I might have ADHD, we sought treatment plans without adding the label to my chart — my mom feared that too many diagnoses would make me uninsurable someday.
I already had several pre-existing conditions, including a connective tissue disorder, dyspraxia, Raynaud’s syndrome, and autism. While I could be covered by my mom’s insurance as a child, she knew someday I would have to cover my own health care costs. We had a lot of success with my childhood health care — physical therapy made it so that I was able to climb stairs, and occupational therapy strengthened my handwriting and fine motor skills; my mom wanted to ensure I’d always have access to that level of care in the future.
But why do we have to navigate health care this way?
We lived near Boston, Massachusetts, so I was fortunate that I was protected by the health care laws in our state (laws that the Affordable Care Act was based on), but my parents had both spent years struggling to get the health care they needed because of pre-existing conditions, as well as high premiums and co-pays. My dad went 15 years without seeing a dentist because of the significant premiums he’d have to pay to have access to health insurance.
I’ve always been aware that my disabilities affect my access to health care, and I have been careful about the delicate balance as an adult. Then, a few years ago, I also survived a rape — and subsequently sought medical treatment for it.
Under the AHCA as it currently exists, sexual assault survivors could potentially see higher costs for their insurance due to conditions stemming from the assault. After I was raped, I went to my college campus health center for STI testing and psychiatric counseling, and my therapist agreed that I most likely have PTSD.
That was another diagnosis that I never sought to make official, for fear of an additional pre-existing condition.
That isn’t a choice anyone should have to make.
My therapist knew about my medical history and disabilities, and I didn’t want any prescriptions for my symptoms. I only wanted to attend a weekly survivor support group and see a therapist to talk through my experience as I dealt with the emotional aftermath. Because of the threat that pre-existing conditions have on my health care access, I didn’t see how making PTSD an official label could benefit me. I still occasionally see a therapist when I feel I need extra support — but for other survivors, that wouldn’t be enough.
I’m extremely lucky that I’ve been able to have access to health care without many bumps in the road, thanks to understanding medical professionals and my parents’ savvy. I went without health insurance for almost five months when I was 18 due to a paperwork mishap — and had to pay out of pocket for the prescription medication I take daily. At the time, I lived in a major city, so it was easy enough to find an affordable version of my medication at the local WalMart, and my physician was happy to do refills over the phone until my lapse in coverage ended. Even paying out of pocket was a hassle, though, because the pharmacy wouldn’t give me enough of my medication at one time, so I was constantly afraid that I would miss a few days in between refills.
A lot of my future plans are impacted by my disability.
I chose a professional field that isn’t particularly physical, and I live in the Boston area, where our subway system is 90 percent wheelchair accessible (compared to New York City, where there is a shortage of accessible stations). I get medical care regularly so that I can be pre-screened for illnesses that run in my family, such as breast and ovarian cancer. Many people aren’t able to be as proactive in protecting their health because of financial hardship or a lack of access.
I live in Massachusetts, and I’m eligible for our low cost health insurance — but living here doesn’t mean that I have nothing to fear, because federal legislation could take away state funding for our health care programs. I also don’t want to feel trapped in Massachusetts. What if the choice to move for my career or my partner’s career ever arises? I don’t want to have to base my employment decisions solely on what my employer’s health insurance covers.
The AHCA is also uniquely terrifying to me because, currently, employers can’t gain access to employees’ genetic information — but that could change under this new law.
I don’t typically disclose my disabilities to employers unless I need to request a specific accommodation, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s not required of me or my physician to specify what disability I need those accommodations for. Under the AHCA, employers could punish me for not taking genetic tests.
Even if the AHCA has little to no effect on me — if my state is able to keep our health insurance system intact, or I’m covered under an inclusive employer insurance — I still care about what happens to the greater disability community, to my friends and loved ones across the country with pre-existing conditions.
We’re all in this together, and it’s not a fight that we can win unless we back each other up.