Over the last year, Republican leaders pushed several attempts at partisan repeal of the Affordable Care Act and repeatedly attacked the Medicaid program. Thanks to all of you, we banded together to stop multiple repeal bills and, more recently, celebrated voter-passed Medicaid expansion in Maine. We were able to save coverage for millions and extend access to care. However, in addition to new challenges to come as a result of the GOP’s tax bill, we must be prepared to defend our progress against further threats in 2018.
Trump already has taken it upon himself to destabilize the insurance markets through executive action, and GOP leaders dealt a blow to the ACA with repeal of the law’s individual mandate disguised as tax reform. Plus, Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation to re-authorize CHIP funding, putting nine million kids at risk nationwide. While the ACA remains largely intact for now, House Speaker Paul Ryan continues to call for slashes to Medicaid and Medicare, and Trump has hinted at another anti-ACA health care push in 2018.
Our collective successes in warding off Congress’ attempts to repeal the ACA and Medicaid expansion were due not only to the tireless work of consumer health advocates across the country, but also to the extraordinary efforts of grassroots activists from a diversity of perspectives and issue interests. As we brace for the next phase of this fight, it’s important to reflect on the partnerships that grew and developed as part of this national campaign, and recognize the work needed to maintain and foster these relationships as we grow a movement focused on health access, coverage and equity.
No matter which version of the ACA repeal bill was being debated, grassroots activists brought deeply personal experiences into the public view. Groups like Liberated People, National Council on Independent Living, ADAPT, National Nurses United labor union, MoveOn, ACT UP, National Congress of American Indians and Little Lobbyists organized days-long sit-ins in the offices of their congressmen — including those who refused to hold public town halls — and mobilized massive demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and around the country.
The media was captivated by the images of people in wheelchairs being physically removed from the Capitol by police. Legislators — to some extent — did ultimately take heed of the activists camped out in their offices, greeting them at airports and filling their town hall meetings. However, it is upon us to remember that many of these activists put their own safety at substantial risk to protect the ACA. People of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, parents of children with chronic health issues, people who care for aging family members, and others who face disproportionate health disparities put their lives on the line, risking arrest and public scrutiny for the common good of protecting the ACA and defending Medicaid.
In the coming year, we will once again need to come together to defend the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Trump’s decision to withdraw cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers nearly guarantees that people across the country will see double-digit premium hikes, and the GOP's recently passed tax bill puts billions of Medicaid dollars at risk. As we continue in our fight to thwart additional cuts and changes to the ACA and Medicaid, it is also important that we support those new partners we collaborated with over the past eight months. A continued partnership can mean seats at a coalition table, invitations to events, membership on boards, and more, but it also needs to be an active engagement in the other issues important to these partners.
Going forward, consumer health advocates should continue to feel a stake in other fights that contribute to larger social justice movements. We should take this time to reflect on the connections between health care and intersectional racial justice, reproductive justice, immigrant justice, climate justice, justice for people with disabilities, and beyond. Fighting for justice of any kind is hard. Each intersection of different identities and policies comes with its own set of nuance, and it’s impossible to expect anyone to be perfectly versed in all of it. But that’s why we all should work together. Grassroots activists are mobilizing to fight back against the Trump administration’s DACA rollback, climate change deniers and emboldened white supremacists. We should all be prepared to contribute in the ways we best can to resistance movements against these attacks on human rights and social justice, as well.
Health care was the first of many fights to come. We are just one piece of a much larger puzzle of resistance. Grassroots organizers often bring to the table expertise in very nuanced social justice issues, while advocates can bring policy expertise and organizational space, for instance. We should continue to brainstorm new and creative ways to partner with organizations, and use our positions of privilege to contribute however we can to movements beyond our health care sphere.
State consumer health advocates have been at this fight for years, and have shown particular strength over the last ten months. We had some big wins this year, but the fight isn’t over. If we make a conscious effort to work together with non-health care groups on these multifaceted issues beyond health care, we can use our strengths to lift each other up and work together to pursue justice for all.
Tori Bilcik hails from Connecticut and is a recent graduate of Emerson College. She is an intern with the Communications team at Community Catalyst and a freelance writer.