“If you’re going to get rid of it, start digging graves because people are going to die.”
That’s what one West Virginian told AFSC West Virginia Economic Justice Project staffers Lida Shepherd and Rick Wilson about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). His words were echoed by many others in interviews held at health clinics in southern West Virginia. AFSC has been interviewing those whose lives were impacted by the ACA in an effort to educate lawmakers and the public about what’s at stake with its repeal.
Some of those interviewed received coverage under Medicaid expansion, which now covers around 175,000 West Virginians. Others purchased coverage on the exchange. Some were fairly healthy, while others were in wheelchairs, or on oxygen, or both. While most believed the law could be improved, none supported repeal without replacement by something at least as comprehensive.
In interview after interview, even those who had complaints about premiums and co-pays agreed on one thing: do not take this away. According to Shepherd, “People told us over and over again, ‘If you take this away, I’ll die.’”
Health care has been a key concern of the WV Economic Justice Project since its founding in 1989. According to Wilson, “Some of our earliest struggles were supporting working people in strikes or lockouts that revolved around health care.”
In the wake of welfare reform, AFSC in WV supported the enactment and expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and transitional Medicaid. It joined with allies to successfully resist state efforts to weaken the program in the mid-2000s.
The project also worked to support the passage of the ACA and to urge then Governor Early Ray Tomblin to expand Medicaid. As a result, West Virginia has seen some of the greatest decreases in the number of the uninsured.
AFSC and allies have participated in several recent rallies and press events aimed at preserving key aspects of the ACA. In the months ahead, the project will work with allies to hold town meetings across the state aimed at moving WV’s congressional delegation in a more positive direction.
The struggles of the past are likely to be small in comparison with the current effort to save what can be saved.