By Marissa Barnathan
I am a 26-year-old Jewish woman from Havertown and I need the Affordable Care Act in order to have health care that I, quite literally, can afford.
Three weeks ago, I led a Don’t Take Away Our Healthcare speak-out at Sen. Pat Toomey’s Center City office. The speak-out was organized through MoveOn.org, but we had several ally organizations supporting us, including the Human Rights Campaign, For Our Future, Pennsylvania Health Access Network and the newly formed Tuesdays with Toomey, a group that has visited Toomey’s Philadelphia office every week since the Nov. 8 election.
I am a MoveOn.org volunteer, and this was my first time leading a speak-out like this. But, as someone who benefits personally from the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, I thought we must do everything in our power to try to protect this important legislation.
I am an actor and a teaching artist, which means that I work at a variety of different companies each year. I am always hired as either an independent contractor or a temporary employee, which means I am never offered health care benefits from any of my various jobs.
Having started this work at 22, right out of college, I was able to stay on my father’s health insurance plan due to the ACA, giving me a chance to professionally pursue my passion of performing and teaching theatre and dance, and not have to worry about the financial strain of health care. Then, in January 2016, I turned 26 and, because of the ACA, I was able to enroll in a marketplace health insurance plan that actually fit my artist budget. Just last month, I happily reenrolled for my 2017 plan, again offering me an affordable monthly premium.
The speak-out’s message was the same as mine today to all members of Congress, including Sen. Toomey: Please protect our health care. Don’t repeal the ACA or, at the very least, certainly don’t repeal it without a thoroughly detailed, improved plan to replace it.
At the speak-out, we had three passionate speakers, each one speaking to how the ACA has made a positive impact on her life.
Our first speaker was Cindy Shapiro, a Jewish woman who works as both a clinical social worker and a freelance ASL interpreter, which means she works as a sole proprietor, therefore receiving no direct health benefits from her employment. Prior to the ACA, she was paying more than $700 a month for her health insurance premiums. Now, because of the ACA, she is able to save hundreds of dollars each month on her health insurance, and feels that she can now provide better care for her clients.
Our second speaker was Vashti Bandy, an active member of Tuesdays with Toomey, whose mother is a three-time cancer survivor. Before the ACA, Vashti’s mother was not able to get health insurance. But since the ACA was put into place, her mother was no longer denied insurance due to her pre-existing conditions. Pending a potential repeal of the ACA, Vashti and her mother are both scared that her mother will lose her insurance and never be insured again.
Our third speaker was Mickey Herr, who suffers from a form of cancer called chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. Similar to Vashti’s mother, Mickey has benefitted greatly from the ACA’s inclusion of her pre-existing condition. Mickey ended her speech by calling out Sen. Toomey by saying, “Unless you can show a fully detailed plan for improvement that can be implemented before the repeal of the ACA, you do not truly care about the health and well-being of your constituents. … My life is in your hands. Sen. Toomey, I ask you, what are you going to do with my life?”
When hearing stories like this, I can’t help but think of the Jewish value of v’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha, or love your neighbor as yourself. As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I was raised with this value as a keystone of how I should treat others.
So, for me, fighting to protect the ACA is an act of v’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha.
Yes, I personally benefit from the ACA, but I also care about my neighbors, both in Pennsylvania and across our nation, millions of whom rely on the ACA to live a healthy life. Every person in our country, no matter his or her socio-economic status or health status, has the right to affordable healthcare.
I hope you’ll join me in this fight, calling, writing, emailing, tweeting your local politicians to keep them accountable, reminding them that they must #ProtectOurCare.
Marissa Barnathan is a local actor and activist.