Opinion: The AHCA could cost me more than health insurance

Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

House Speaker Paul Ryan introduced his Affordable Care Act replacement bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), to the public on March 8.

Once it is approved by the House Budget Committee, it will be presented to the House of Representatives to be voted on. If the House approves, it goes to the Senate. If it clears with them, it hits President Donald Trump’s desk for the final signature.

I can’t afford for that to happen.

I have a chronic illness called cystic fibrosis. This illness is caused by a genetic mutation and causes all sorts of problems for different people; for me, it’s given me a sub-par digestive system and very bad lungs.

My lungs were so bad, in fact, that I had to get them exchanged — in January of 2016, I had a double-lung transplant.

Since the transplant, I have been in the best shape of my life. I’m able to breathe clearly, exercise, attend school regularly and live a more fulfilling life than I could have dreamed of before.

Pre-transplant, I was taking all sorts of breathing treatments and pills. I had oxygen tanks and a machine that literally shook junk out of my lungs. I was in and out of the hospital for a couple weeks at a time every month to get better treatment when all that wasn’t enough.

While most of that is in my past, I still need a handful of pills a few times a day to keep my body from rejecting my new lungs.

To cover the cost of those medications, as well as the doctor’s appointments and procedures I still need, I am covered by Medicaid, a federal health insurance program that offers free, full-coverage health insurance for low-income and disabled people.

Medicaid also happens to be one of the programs targeted in the AHCA.

Under the AHCA, a cap will be placed on how much can be spent on a single Medicaid enrollee each year. That cap would be determined on a state-by-state basis based on average cost per patient and funding provided to states.

In Ohio, the average per-enrollee cost of coverage for non-elderly, disabled Medicaid recipients is $19,858 per year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

To cover a year of medication for me, it costs on average $137,450. That doesn’t include doctor’s appointments, medical procedures or changes in my medication regimen that could drive up the total.

Meaning, if they land on a cap of $19,585 for Ohio Medicaid recipients, I will be left to pay at least $117,866 to make up the difference.

If I do not pay that bill, I can not see my doctors, and I do not get my life-saving medication. Within a few months of not being properly medicated, I will endure the painful process of organ rejection and, eventually, death.

If that seems like hyperbole, it is only because you are not affected by this bill.

Politicians and media figures enjoy discussing issues like health care in numbers. The problem is, each number is a person. A person with Down Syndrome or Crohn’s disease or Cystic Fibrosis. A person who will suffer immensely if they are denied medical care.

This one policy is only the tip of the iceberg that is the AHCA. In the end, this bill is expected to kick 24 million people off insurance by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office report on the bill.

Ryan and Congress need to think long and hard about this bill. It can, and will, cost lives if it passes. Is that what they believe “American Health Care” should look like?

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].