My daughter Xiomara spent the first five months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit. She was born with a number of medical conditions affecting her airway, lungs, heart, and kidneys — luckily, due to her medical care, she is thriving today.
When I look back on those 169 days I spent at her hospital bedside, I am overwhelmed with gratitude all over again. Because of the Affordable Care Act, I was able to focus on her care instead of worrying about how to afford our bills or filing for bankruptcy.
Under the ACA, families like mine who have children with complex medical needs cannot be denied medical coverage due to preexisting conditions or face a lifetime cap. When the GOP threatened to take away that peace of mind in early 2017, I knew I had to speak up. I have always been a fiercely private person, but I found something more precious than my privacy to protect: my daughter.
On Tuesday night, after a hard-fought battle to protect our care, health care advocates like me won. Children with complex medical needs like Xiomara won. The Republican Party voted against our health care more than 50 times, and it just cost them control of the House of Representatives. Exit polls showed that health care was the No. 1 issue for voters this midterm election, and a majority — almost 60 percent — of Americans said Democrats would better address preexisting conditions as a health care issue.
As Vox’s Dylan Scott wrote, Obamacare repeal “proved devastatingly unpopular when the GOP actually tried to pass it, and voters made them, and Trump, pay the price on Election Day.”
Taking the fight to Congress
Ever since the GOP took control of the government, Republicans have been obsessed with attacking Americans’ access to affordable health care and disability rights in every corner of our country. Last summer, the Senate tried (and failed) to pass a health care repeal bill that would have cut Medicaid by more than $800 billion and left 23 million Americans uninsured.
Last December, they followed suit by passing a disastrous tax bill that is estimated to leave 13 million Americans without health insurance in the next 10 years. The Republican attacks on our health care never died down as they backed a lawsuit that threatens people with preexisting conditions, loosened restrictions on junk insurance policies that skirt consumer protections outlined in the Affordable Care Act, and made Medicaid harder and harder for families to access.
Every step of the way, health care advocates, including patients and caregivers, fought back. We made sure that lawmakers looked our children in the eyes, heard our stories, and remembered our families.
Along with my friends who also have medically complex children, I went to Capitol Hill last year — with our kids and their medical bags in tow! — and spoke directly with the lawmakers elected to represent us. Before I knew it, my life was consumed by political advocacy. I began to raise my voice louder than I thought possible.
Through Little Lobbyists, a parent-led group of families with children with complex medical needs, we shared our stories and explained what was possible with access to health care — and what was at stake without it. We had countless meetings. We spoke at rallies and press events. We made phone calls. We wrote op-eds and letters to the editor across the country. We educated our community and empowered them to hold their elected officials accountable. We mobilized voters. For nearly two years, we fought back nonstop.
As the results rolled in on Tuesday night, it was clear that our work made the difference. While I watched the map turn from red to blue, Xiomara was asleep in the room next to me; her ventilator, feeding tube, and emergency medical bags safely close by. I saw the hard work of millions of health care advocates come to life, and in that moment, I was hopeful.
I am tired, but like millions of advocates across the country, I won’t back down. I have never given up on my daughter, and I won’t give up now.
Americans vote on health care. It’s a life-or-death issue.
It’s not a difficult equation: If our lawmakers dare threaten the health care that American families rely on, then we will do everything in our power to hold them accountable and vote them out of office.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s results, it became obvious that health care advocates were driving Americans to the ballot box. Friends and community members shared their health care story to empower the people around them. Polling pointed to health care as the No. 1 issue in the elections. Health care became Democrats’ closing argument.
Republicans, finally recognizing that voters were going to hold them accountable, lied about their own voting records. They tried to rewrite their history of voting against people with preexisting conditions, but the American people wouldn’t be fooled.
The results of the midterm elections have sent an undeniable message to the Republican Party: Attempting to repeal our health care is not a winning issue. Our health care is non-negotiable. I am more hopeful than I have been in months; the American people won, and my daughter’s health care was protected.
Notably, the Democrats taking control of the House means that the Republicans won’t be able to move forward on their plans to defund Medicaid or repeal the Affordable Care Act, which ensures that people with preexisting conditions have coverage and that there is no annual or lifetime limits on care. This is huge; it makes all the difference to families likes mine with children with complex medical needs and disabilities.
Elena Hung is co-founder and president of Little Lobbyists and co-chair of the Health Care Voter campaign.
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