This week, the U.S. Senate is poised to vote to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). I’ve heard pundits and politicians say the ACA has been a “horrible failure,” a “terrible law” that is “hurting Americans.”
This is not my experience. In fact, the ACA has made it possible for my wife and me to transform our lives, follow our entrepreneurial dreams, have more choice about how we earn our living, and make it through unexpected setbacks along the way.
When I first met Linda, I was about to leave a steady job to go out on my own and pursue the civic engagement work that has been my passion. Linda was well into a 30-year career in construction that began with eight years of service in the Navy as a welder, followed by 12 more years of welding in the private sector. It was a job she loved and excelled at, but all those years of welding took a toll. The repetitive motion of her trade hopelessly twisted and inflamed her ulnar nerves, which had to be surgically relocated. During the two years of unemployment that followed her surgery, Linda was unable to use her arms and was forced to file for bankruptcy. Once she healed, welding was no longer an option. She became an HVAC technician and spent the next 10 years doing manual labor she hated ― lugging heavy tools and equipment, working with chemicals, and spending time on icy rooftops in the winter and in hot attics in the summer.
Three years ago, after years of studying and saving, Linda was able to leave that HVAC job to start her own business as a personal trainer. Starting the business was a risk; we refinanced our house to build a studio where the garage used to be and forfeited the insurance we’d both relied on from her employer.
Now that we are both self-employed, Obamacare has been a lifeline. Last year, I was in an accident that resulted in a debilitating concussion. I was out of work for several months and was unable to work full time for many more. This took a financial toll that would have been insurmountable without the ACA.
Critics rightly point out that Obamacare is not perfect; our monthly insurance bill is high, and so is our deductible. Over a year has passed, and we are still paying off medical bills from my accident. Even so, we are doing fine and have been able to continue to move forward in our lives and with our businesses.
I am sympathetic to people who are concerned about government overreach, and I don’t believe that government is the answer to every problem. However, medical care and health insurance have become so expensive that the vast majority of Americans can’t come close to being able to afford them.
For a growing number of people who have been downsized or who leave a dead end job to work as a freelancer, create a startup, or start their own business, the availability of health insurance outside of the traditional workplace is essential. It creates choices and adds value to our changing economy, where it is estimated that up to 54 million people are doing freelance work.
Obamacare has allowed Linda and I to do meaningful work that we love. In many other cases, Obamacare has made it possible for people to simply live.
When a politician refers to the Affordable Care Act as a “disaster” or a “terrible burden,” don’t believe it. These harsh statements may help politicians rationalize their support for health care legislation that will result in death, bankruptcy, and incredible hardship for millions of Americans. The choice to go without life-saving health care, or to go bankrupt, or to stay in a dead end job for the health insurance are not choices that any of our lawmakers would want to make. I hope they don’t force these “choices” on the rest of us.