Two months ago, I wrote a blog post on the importance of pre-health students getting involved in political advocacy and offered several different ideas for how pre-health organizations could generate momentum around campus, whether through phone banking, op-eds, or a town hall. Now, an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (called the American Health Care Act) has been proposed--and cleared two House committees this week--and the time for healthcare advocacy is even more urgent.
First, though, what’s at stake?
- ACHA maintains some popular provisions of the ACA, such as allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26 and preventing discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.
- ACHA eliminates the individual mandate, which is the linchpin of the ACA (and of insurance as a concept).
- Medicaid expansion is maintained through Jan 1, 2020, at which point states will stop enrolling new beneficiaries.
- It prohibits any direct federal reimbursements, specifically through Medicaid, for clinics that provide abortions for anything other than the life of the mother, incest, or rape. Of note, the Hyde Amendment (passed in 1976) already prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, but this provision of ACHA would mean that organizations like Planned Parenthood could lose all funding and provider reimbursements for preventive and primary care.
- 80% of the funding for programs and education that reduce heart disease would be eliminated, and 100% of the money that the CDC uses to help hospitals reduce infections would be eliminated.
- The plan offers tax breaks to insurance companies that pay their CEOs more than $500,000 per year.
- Bottom line: Estimates differ but indicate that at least 15 million people will lose their health care.
All of these provisions could not be more important to you as a future health care professional--and in fact, may inspire you to consider a career in policy in addition to medicine. These policies are the macro-level gears that determine our patients’ access to health care and more often than we might like to admit, their health outcomes.
What can you do right now, as an individual or a pre-health organization on campus?
- Network: connect with on-going advocacy efforts in your area. #ProtectOurPatients is a national movement of future health care professionals around the country, and they send out excellent biweekly e-mail updates with concise news and action items. Indivisible allows you to search for community action events by zip code.
- Organize phone banking (incentivize with baked goods perhaps!) 5calls is a website that pulls up your senators and representatives’ phone numbers and provides you with a pre-written script.
- Consider writing an op-ed for your local campus or city newspaper. This tool has useful statistics on how repeal of the ACA could affect your state.
I hope you’ll see this not as a time to despair and be distracted by organic chemistry (which is certainly easy enough to do!), but as an opportunity to dive into the unknown and practice organizing with fellow pre-health students and community members. This is the challenge that lies ahead in a career in the health professions: how to provide excellent individual patient care while also speaking up for the policies and large-scale systems designs that best serve the population of patients as a whole. Again, please reach out to me with any questions or thoughts at Anna_Morenz@hms.harvard.edu.
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