As Senate Republicans huddle in a Capitol-building closet and deliberate on how to strip people of their health care coverage through a dangerous mix of alchemy, conservative math, obfuscation and outright lies, let us remember the important part of the story of the GOP’s efforts to snatch Obamacare from millions of people: John McCain—America’s hero—once again screwed us over.
Most of the news coverage about Obamacare has focused on the fact that millions of people gained health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act who would have previously been left uncovered. In January, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 20 million people gained coverage under the law.
What Republicans and McCain forget when they vilify the ACA while simultaneously talking out of the sides of their mouths about family values, the American dream and education are the millions of people who are now able to pursue education, advance their careers and improve their lives because of Obamacare.
I know because I’m one of them.
I’ve never spent a day in a hospital. I am not terminally ill; nor am I caring for someone who is. But Obamacare changed my life because without it, I probably couldn’t work as a writer full time, and I most assuredly wouldn’t be employed by The Root.
All my life I have suffered from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When I discovered I had it 30 years ago, they called it ADD (attention deficit disorder). There wasn’t much anyone could do with it back then, and many people—including some medical professionals—assumed it was a behavioral problem that could be solved with discipline and yelling. A lot of yelling.
Before scientists discovered that it was a neurological disorder linked to a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and sometimes trauma, they assumed it was something that most people grew out of as they matured. I was one of the few who didn’t. Luckily, I had a mother who decided to homeschool me during my youth. It was only after I joined the American education system that my inadequacies were revealed.
Some people think that ADHD is akin to being very forgetful, but it is not. It is the physical and neurological inability to focus. The only thing that could keep my attention for an extended amount of time was the written word. It was as if I were given a beautiful, 60-inch, high-definition television that arbitrarily switched channels on its own at any time. All I needed was a remote.
Almost every teacher I’d ever spoken with told me I was one of their smartest students and I was one of their worst. Imagine trying to sit still for 55 minutes until it feels as if spiders are crawling down your shirt. Imagine working on 50 algebra problems that you can do in your head, but the teacher requires you to show your work.
Imagine never learning that stupid worker-bee language, so you just had to write down all the tiny, infinitesimal steps to make sure you didn’t get points taken off—even if you always had the right answer. Now imagine having to do that while your brain was turning somersaults until your head ached. Until your arms and legs got the heebie-jeebies. Until your eyes watered. Imagine if homework made you cry. That was high school and college for me.
My first real job after college was at Benedict College—a small HBCU in South Carolina. The pay wasn’t great, but they gave me insurance and required a physical examination. That’s when I learned there was a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine that might be able to help me. I went to the pharmacy, paid a $15 copay, and my life was changed forever.
It was the difference between using a wire clothes hanger as an antenna and suddenly having digital cable. I could actually pay attention to what people were saying to me. I could sit at a desk without having to get up every few minutes to walk in a circle. I didn’t have to pace while reading a book. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to get a graduate degree or work any job that required long periods of attention.
Without insurance, Focalin—my current drug—costs around $500 for a month’s supply. If I didn’t have insurance, I wouldn’t be able to afford it—period.
For most of my adulthood, my dream was to become a full-time writer, but I knew I couldn’t do it without my brain medicine. Without a full-time job to pay for those 30 pills, I couldn’t pursue a career in writing, even with the education and ability. So I hustled on the side, writing a novel, poetry and publishing articles on Ebony (no, I still haven’t been paid), Deadspin (before The Root was a part of the Kinja platform) and even Very Smart Brothas (before they even thought of becoming a part of The Root).
In 2015, The Root Senior Editor Yesha Callahan found me wandering about the internet ranting about cookouts, wypipo and Black Lives Matter. She asked me to contribute to The Root as a freelancer, and I jumped at the opportunity. It opened so many doors, I made the decision to pursue freelance writing full time. I knew that the only way to do that was because the Affordable Care Act allowed me to have health care without a full-time employer. I could have purchased insurance as an individual, but ADHD is considered a pre-existing condition. I wouldn’t have been able to afford health insurance.
I decided that in 2017, I would work only as a writer, writing what I wanted—I described it to people as “like the stuff they write on The Root or Very Smart Brothas.” I stepped up my game and started producing more content. I started my own podcast in 2014, launched my own site (or, more accurately—as I fully admit—I culturally appropriated the VSB model and started NegusWhoRead) and made the leap to being a full-time freelancer in December 2016. Most importantly, I signed up for Obamacare. I felt free.
Three weeks later, while I was sitting in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, my phone rang. It was Danielle Belton, The Root’s managing editor. She asked if I would be interested in a full-time job. I calmly told her yes. She probably wondered why I was so unenthusiastic because she could not see the faces of the people in Copeland’s wondering why this crazy guy was at a table by himself, jumping up and down while talking on the phone.
So, if you hate the phrase “wypipo,” blame Barack Obama. If you think we discuss Game of Thrones too much, it’s the fault of the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare did this.
On Wednesday I watched
Lord Voldemort John McCain cast the deciding vote to conjure up the supersecret spell that may ultimately repeal and replace Obamacare. While he debated, I was signing the paperwork for my employer-provided health insurance. I survived.
But there are many other people whose lives have been made better by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Some are single mothers who got the chance to attend college and give their kids better lives because they didn’t have to worry about a lapse in coverage for their children. Many of them are young people with health concerns who could go to college because their parents could keep them on their insurance until they were 26.
Universal health care isn’t a handout, any more than schools, fire departments or road signs are handouts. We don’t all come from families of privilege and honor like McCain. He probably could have afforded his brain-cancer treatments without the ACA, but 20 years from now, there will be people in the Senate chambers who couldn’t have gotten there without universal health care. I understand what it means.
I wish they did.