There's a lot of hubbub about the American Health Care Act's recent passage through the House. Many elements of it have come under fire, as of recent, but there's one aspect that's not getting enough coverage –– the media's failure to properly explain it.
Succumbing to hysteria is never a good strategy for the press. For a free society to flourish, the press should remain arbiters of fact and fiction. Unfortunately, that idealistic vision is far from how these issues actually play out, especially lately. Headlines surrounding the AHCA have ranged from "Under The New Healthcare Bill, Rape Could Be A Pre-Existing Condition" (Huffington Post) to "In Trump's America, Being Sexually Assaulted Could Make Your Health Insurance More Expensive" (New York Magazine) to "How the Horrific New Republican Health Care Bill Punishes Women" (Gizmodo). These headlines center around an important point, the pre-existing conditions aspect, but ultimately prize attention-grabbing over truth.
Here's the deal: This bill is a shabby attempt at repeal-and-replace for a number of reasons. There's a strange tax cut for the wealthy which reeks of crony capitalism, the Congressional Budget Office didn't issue a fiscal score of this legislation, and the whole thing was hurried through the House at a suspicious speed. But in other areas, this bill isn't as bad as many are making it out to be.
One issue many observers are pointing to (such as the fine crafters of Gizmodo headlines) is the community ratings (or pre-existing conditions) issue. Under this new plan, states would have the ability to apply for waivers that would change current provisions. If they so choose, they could ax the pre-existing conditions component of the old healthcare plan, which meant insurers had to charge people the same rates, agnostic of conditions that had existed before coverage began (presumably reducing insurance companies denying coverage to those most in need). This purportedly allows states to give insurance companies the option of denying coverage to some based on specific medical histories –– including a history of domestic abuse and rape, as has been reported in numerous places.
Such a ludicrous claim, of course, is not true. Health insurance anti-discrimination laws are horribly complex, and there are laws on the books in 44 states that prevent against this type of discrimination for victims of abuse and rape. Montana has one, Rhode Island has a very clear one, North Carolina has one (that's been discussed and clarified over the years), Virginia has one, New Mexico has one (and its court has affirmed this when disputed). I could go on and on –– the only states that don't have these important anti-discrimination laws are Idaho and Vermont. Is this a problem? Of course. But there isn't some widespread Republican conspiracy to harm rape and abuse victims.
There is a widespread Republican conspiracy to make a bad bill, though, and to push it through the House without waiting for a CBO rating to be issued. These CBO scores are important because they give citizens a sense of the cost, value, and impact of intended legislation. With an issue as important as healthcare, this foresight and transparency is crucial.
There are plenty of bad aspects of this new healthcare bill and there's a real worry that coverage will be drastically reduced for sick people in states that choose to opt out of old provisions. But one of the scariest aspects is simply the way journalists have reported it, instilling fear in many and failing to do adequate research.
There's not going to be some massive wave of insurance companies denying coverage to rape and abuse victims. Ambulances won't suddenly stop responding to emergency calls. The impact will be severe, but it shouldn't be overstated: It's likely that some people in some states with some types of pre-existing conditions will experience denial of coverage, lapses in coverage, or costly premiums. It's likely that some people in some states will have a harder time buying insurance and affording it. It's likely that some people in some states will spend periods of time uninsured, making a risky gamble on their own health that will have bad consequences.
These things are all scary and difficult on their own. We don't need to add needless rape hysteria to the mix –– we need to explain the flaws of this poorly crafted bill.
Liz Wolfe (@lizzywol) is managing editor at Young Voices. She writes about criminal justice from Austin, Texas.
Correction: This article previously listed six states without the anti-discrimination laws on the books. It is now only two states.
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