Less than 3 days after being re-elected as House Speaker, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans’ chief priority this session would be to repeal the Affordable Care Act (or, “Obamacare”), a signature healthcare reform bill of the Obama administration that has enabled more than 20 millionpreviously uninsured Americans to obtain healthcare coverage. Furthermore, Obamacare enjoys particular popularity – and above-average use – among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Many political commentators have weighed in to discuss the devastating impact of an Obamacare repeal on Americans; none have considered the specific impact of Obamacare’s elimination on the AAPI community.
It turns out that if Republicans are successful in passing legislation to dismantle Obamacare, approximately 1 in 15 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders would lose their healthcare coverage, and millions more would love access to mental health care, reproductive health care, and a vast array of preventative care.
The Affordable Care Act has been an unqualified boon for American public health. And yet, Congressional Republicans are eyeing the recent presidential election of Donald Trump as an opportunity to gut the program.
One of the watershed moments in my development as an AANHPI race advocate happened at ECAASU in 2003. I was still a student activist, and president of my on-campus Asian American political group. That ECAASU was my first Asian American student conference, and my first real opportunity to interact with politically conscious Asian Americans outside of the gates of my Ivory Tower.
The only workshop I remember is the poorly attended workshop on AANHPI healthcare disparities I attended because mental health disparities were a growing issue on my campus. I emerged undeniably woken up.
An enduring problem for AANHPI racial discourse is the homogenizing effect that results from how the mainstream talks about us, and also from how some of us talk about ourselves. We paint the AANHPI identity with the broad brush of “sameness”, and in so doing we commit two unforgivable sins: 1) we universalize the narratives of East (and to a far lesser degree, South) Asian Americans as if they are wholly representative of the AANHPI identity; and 2) we shortchange the Southeast Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander members of our vibrant and diverse AANHPI community.
As evidence of this mainstream instinct towards AANHPI homogenization, we need look no further than Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in the New York Times, which patronizingly lauded Asian Americans as universally high-achieving. We also need look no further than the angst expressed by Governor Jerry Brown when he vetoed a widely popular California state bill that would have required sophisticated ethnic disaggregation of demographic data for AANHPI people. To date, most AANHPI racial data is aggregated during collection and analysis.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. By the 54th time, sue.
House Republicans advanced a draft of legislation today that would grant Congress the authority to file a civil lawsuit against President Barack Obama for constitutional overreach. If the legislation passes, it would authorize the House to file civil action and seek injunctive relief against the president and other departmental heads for failing to act “in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including any amendment made by such provision.”
This morning, history was made. In a 5-4 decision (read the .pdf of the SCOTUS opinion), the Supreme Court decided that the landmark healthcare reform bill championed by the Obama administration (and that will undoubtedly serve as the cornerstone of Obama’s presidential legacy) is on its whole constitutional.
Prevent private health insurance companies from raising premiums or denying coverage based on arbitrarily defined “pre-existing conditions”, which has prevented many Americans, including many children, from being able to obtain any, or sufficient, health insurance coverage. Importantly, this also prevents health insurance companies from disproportionately discriminating against women (who pay 30% more than men of the same age and income), in effect rendering womanhood a “pre-existing condition”.
Eliminate lifetime limits for coverage, which has resulted in patients battling prolonged illnesses to run out of coverage and to face sudden, mounting healthcare costs they cannot afford.
Permits young Americans up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance, which encourages coverage of a particularly vulnerable population of college students and recent college graduates, who are either unemployed or underemployed and thus have difficulty finding employer-based healthcare coverage.
Establishes a state-based “insurance exchange”, which allows Americans to purchase healthcare independent of their employers, if they so choose. This also serves as a more open market for small business owners.
Provide better access to preventative care.
Require that all Americans above a certain income level purchase health insurance, or pay a penalty.
Spurred by their hatred for the president, rightwing activists have launched a multi-year smear campaign against the president’s healthcare reform bill that has succeeded in saturating the national debate with misinformation and bold-faced lies. Obamacare will not eliminate the coverage for Americans who currently have health insurance. Obamacare will not prevent Americans from being able to continue to see their own doctors. Obamacare will not establish “death panels” that will decide which Americans can live or die.
Republicans took their issues to the Supreme Court, arguing that Obamacare violated the Constitution, and the rights of individual Americans to elect not to purchase health insurance.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional. Specifically, the individual mandate, which requires that all Americans above a certain income level purchase health insurance, was judged to be legal since it basically represents Congress exercising its power to tax the population. In essence, Congress is taxing any American at a different rate if they don’t have health insurance, compared to any American who does. The Supreme Court also found the rest of the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, except for its restrictions on dispersion of Medicare funds to states who refuse to comply with the law; in that case, states can only be denied Medicare funds associated with the elements of the program they refuse to comply with, and would not lose all of their Medicare funding.
The Supreme Court’s decision is a major victory for Democrats, progressives, and the Obama administration. But, more importantly, it is an incredible victory for the literally millions of Americans whose healthcare will be improved by the Affordable Care Act, including the Asian American community and other communities of colour, which have historically higher rates of uninsured and underinsured people compared to the community at-large.
Roughly 11% of Asian Americans are self-employed and/or own a small business; the Affordable Care Act will make purchasing health insurance for small business owners and their employees significantly easier and more affordable. This not only ensures that Asian American small business owners will have better access to healthcare, but it also helps to stimulate Asian American business by making them more competitive via improved employee benefits.
But most importantly, Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit when this country places increased attention helping all of its citizens, and not just the most affluent. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit by a renewed commitment by the federal government to provide social programs that benefit all, including the less fortunate. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit when this country becomes, once again, one in which all citizens, regardless of race, class or creed, have equal access to life, and life-saving healthcare coverage. Asian Americans — like all Americans — benefit by when healthcare is no longer a privilege in this country, reserved for the wealthy and the well-connected, but it is a basic human right accessible to all.