In May, when Melissa Mays heard that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, the Flint, Michigan, resident raced to Washington, D.C.
Her three sons rely on specialists — neurologists, gastroenterologists, infectious disease doctors, physical therapists, and rheumatologists — to deal with numerous ailments that resulted from drinking Flint’s contaminated water. A Medicaid expansion program helps cover their care, and both the House legislation and its hotly debated Senate counterpart would eliminate those funds.
“They’re not seeing what they’re doing — how it’s going to affect actual human lives,” says Mays. “Flint’s not an outlier. We’re one of many, many poisoned communities.”
The bills, she says, threaten to “take what little help we have to try to regain our health.”
The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 would reduce the deficit by $321 billion in the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in part by cutting Medicaid. It would also cause a full 22 million people to lose insurance. After several Republicans refused to endorse the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would delay voting on the bill until after the July 4th recess.
If passed, Americans with chronic health issues will likely be at risk. According to environmental health advocates and experts, the most pronounced impact would fall on the same shoulders that climate change disproportionately affects: communities of color and low-income people. Because of higher premiums, “few low-income people would purchase any plan,” the CBO estimates. And fifteen million people would lose Medicaid coverage under the current Senate proposal.
“It becomes a death sentence,” says Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, executive director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network.
John Balmes, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says that while Obamacare isn’t perfect, the Senate’s plan isn’t a worthy alternative. Cutting Medicaid in particular, he says, is “silly.”
“I don’t know of a single healthcare organization — whether it be…