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From Maggie McBride's Blog

I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 13 years old, but the first time I ever saw epilepsy referred to as an “invisible disability” was when I was applying to graduate school. The phrase baffled me. Since I had no immediately apparent physical challenges, I suppose it was easy for people to write epilepsy off as “invisible.”

It’s never been easy for me to do the same.

I see it in the six pills I take every day. It’s evident every time I wake up with paramedics hovering over me. It shows up in the black eyes and bruises that surface a few hours after a seizure, the byproduct of being unconscious before I fall to the ground, unable to find the most practical place to have a seizure. It’s in every medication label as I carefully select the over-the-counter drugs for my allergies, cold, or flu that won’t interact with my anticonvulsants. It’s visible in the flash of worry in my parents’ eyes when I tell them I haven’t been sleeping well, a common trigger for me.

As a result of the looming specter of a seizure that’s always hovering nearby, health care was always an immediate need and a constant source of anxiety, a departure from several friends I had that were healthy, working part-time jobs, and simply had to wing it and hope they never got sick or hurt. I remember the days before children were kept on their parents’ insurance until age 26: I helped pay for my COBRA coverage in college, balancing a full time courseload and a waitressing job. The opportunity to re-enroll on my father’s company’s plan occurred in 2010 or so, a policy that set the stage for what would later become the Affordable Care Act.

When President Obama talked about the greater picture of the ACA, it seemed like a lofty goal, especially to a young person all too familiar with health care bureaucracy and the industry’s desperate, frazzled dedication to nickel-and-diming every patient who walked through their doors. A world where I could select my own reasonably-priced insurance plan without being bound to a full-time employer seemed out of reach.

In 2012, I took a full-time job at a small company run by a family of staunch conservatives, one of whom referred to President Obama as a “Muslim terrorist” with some degree of regularity. I was fortunate to still be living with my parents, because the health insurance provided through my employer was terribly expensive.  The premium alone soared over $360 a month, with prescription coverage only available as a percentage rather than a flat copay (a health insurance mistake I will never make again). The medication I needed to keep my epilepsy in check was expensive. Covering only a meager percentage of it added astronomical costs every month. Between my loan bills and medical expenses I was just barely able to squeak by.


I felt relief when the Health Insurance Marketplace opened in 2014. Have you ever gotten something great from someone a lot of people hated? I’ve yet to forget the euphoria of telling the company’s equally bigoted HR person to cancel my insurance plan because a “Muslim terrorist” had helped a girl out.

Now, the very provisions that made it possible for me to go to graduate school and to unbound myself from the soul-crushing cycle of clinging onto low quality employer-provided  health insurance are all at stake under our current administration and its mutated version of the Affordable Care Act, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). I’m lucky to live in New Jersey, where customers with pre-existing conditions always had protection against discrimination, but what about the estimated three million other people in the country with epilepsy, many of whom have it worse than I do, but not quite badly enough to qualify for disability? It seems that those that forged the AHCA think epilepsy is invisible too and should stay that way, simply existing as a wraith undeserving of the medical attention or carefully prescribed concoctions necessary to keep it under control.

Make no mistake: without pre-existing conditions clauses, people will die. They won’t all have “invisible” disabilities either. They’ll be, among others, people with physical challenges, mothers-to-be who fall prey to any of the many potentially fatal complications in a pregnancy, or those with chronic ailments slowly snaking around their nervous systems. No matter how evident their medical conditions are to others, I can assure you that their families and friends will not be silent, and they will not be tucked away. They, like me, will be loudly clamoring for the humane treatment of everyone, whether their afflictions are already present or will surface in the future.

We can only hope that our legislators will be similarly-minded, because this is a matter of life and death.

-Maggie McBride, NJ 4th District Constituent


Connecting National Issues with Local Politics

Complicit com·plic·it
kəmˈplisit/
adj associated with unethical activity

A new effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as “ObamaCare,” is gaining steam in Washington DC. Republicans, after more than 60 failed attempts to kill the ACA during the Obama Administration and another failed attempt just a month ago, are once again trying to come up with a plan to “repeal and replace.” But, what does this latest plan, and other Republican initiatives, have to do with you and with local politics and local elections?

Just a Little Background

The first attempt of the new Trump Administration in March to “repeal and replace” the ACA was meeting resistance from Trump’s own Republican Party, so the evening before the scheduled vote by Congress, a revision to the bill was floated to members. This revision would have repealed the requirement that health insurance plans cover a core set of essential health benefits, such as:

  • hospitalizations
  • maternity care
  • prescription drugs
  • mental health
  • substance use disorder treatment

That means that, although you had purchased insurance, it wouldn’t necessarily cover any of the list above. Insurers could sell you insurance without covering these things, the very things you buy insurance to cover, like hospital stays! The bill was pulled without a vote because about 40 Congressional Republicans didn’t think this bill was harsh enough. In other words, it didn’t hurt enough people.

Well… they’re at it again. Republicans are working on a plan that would allow insurers to not cover these things or charge you a “surcharge” if you have a pre-existing condition. The ACA now prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums based on factors like health status, gender, or pre-existing conditions. This new law would enable insurers to charge extra (a surcharge) for pre-existing conditions (pregnancy is a pre-existing condition). Virtually everyone over the age of 50 has pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure.

The Center for American Progress estimates that these surcharges would be “$4,270 for asthma, $17,060 for pregnancy, $26,180 for rheumatoid arthritis, and $140,510 for metastatic cancer.” In other words, if you want to buy insurance, your annual cost would be the cost for a healthy person (somewhere north of $4,000) PLUS the surcharge for your pre-existing condition. That’s not a pretty prospect. Without the mandate to buy insurance, insurers can’t spread the cost of serious conditions over a large population, so they would have to recover their costs from the people who are ill with that condition. That affects many of us in Belmar.


What Does That Have To Do With Belmar Politics?

This new proposed “repeal and replace” bill is solely owned by the Republican Party. In other words, ALL Republican office holders, and those running for office under the Republican Party umbrella, own this draconian bill. And, they own all of the other Republican Party initiatives, such as voter suppression, removing environmental regulations that have protected our air and water, frightfully disjointed foreign policies, and so very much more.

Those of you who are a bit older like me, and have lived in Belmar for awhile, might remember when Shark River wasn’t the kind of place you would want your kids getting near, or when the sand along Belmar beach had the most disgusting and dangerous stuff washing up. Federal regulations have an impact on us all, especially those of us who live at the New Jersey shore where these regulations have had a huge impact. The environmental regulations that have helped to clean up the river and ocean are being systematically dismantled by Republicans.

Just imagine if we return to a polluted Shark River; or if the ocean along the New Jersey shore returns to the days before strong environmental protection regulations. Will boaters and fishermen (and women!) keep coming to our marina? Will beachgoers still flock to our sandy beaches? The Republicans want to take us back to the days before the EPA helped clean up the waters surrounding Belmar, and that will have a devastating impact on our local economy, and yes, on your taxes and your health. Make no mistake, this is what the Republican cuts to the EPA, and the dismantling of environmental regulations, will do.

One other example, among many, is the Republican proposal to dismantle the banking regulations that were put into place after the 2008 financial meltdown. Many of us lost a lot of our retirement when banks folded and the Dow plunged to around 6000, and not a few people lost their homes and all of their retirement nest egg. Removing these regulations puts us right back to the conditions that brought us that financial meltdown in the first place. Want to chance it again?

So, voting for someone who has an “R” next to their name, whether for national, state, county or local office, is voting for someone who owns the policies and initiatives of their party. If someone tells me that they are a Republican but disagree with these policies, when these policies are central to the party as it exists today, then they are either grossly confused or they are pulling my chain, neither of which bodes well for an elected official that I could support. In other words, they are either actively supportive of these policies, or they are passively complicit with these policies.

Giving Republicans the power to make decisions critical to our community, our county, and our state gives them the power to roll back progress in the healthcare we deserve, the clean water we drink and on which our community depends, the air we breathe, and the financial security of our homes and our retirement nest-eggs. This is not empty rhetoric. They are doing this now.

This is an opinion piece by:

John Hutchinson
Chair, Belmar Democrats