John McCain May Vote No, But Graham-Cassidy (And The Fight For Obamacare) Isn't Over Yet

Since the day the Affordable Care Act became law, Republicans have been trying to destroy it. And now, they only have a week left to rip accessible health care away from millions of Americans. With a majority in the Senate, the GOP has put forward one last repeal effort, called the Graham-Cassidy bill, which would slash Medicare, end protections for pre-existing conditions, and defund Planned Parenthood. The bill would likely kick millions off their health care and raise costs for almost everyone else. I would say that it’s just Trumpcare by another name, but that would be a lie. This is a new creation, more terrible than anything that came before it.

I started fighting for the ACA eight years ago, when I worked in Barack Obama’s White House. During that time, I spent countless hours battling to get this essential health care legislation passed. It wasn’t just that I believed all Americans had the right to affordable health care — I fought because I knew firsthand what it's like to decide between paying for medicine and paying the rent.

America is a family, and we’re better off when our family is better off.

As the child of immigrants, my parents always put their own health behind the health of their kids. They did this to put food on the table, to make sure we had the best education they could afford, to have a better life. Not always being able to go to the doctor was one thing, but there was also the issue of not being able to understand the system, how to ask for help, and what to do if something unthinkable happened. Immigrants tend to endure back-breaking jobs — working as a cleaning person, or at a factory, or juggling multiple jobs per week.

So, when my mom finally got a job where we were all covered, it was a huge relief. We had one less worry, one less reason to toss and turn at night, but let me tell you, we still had a lot of trouble sleeping.

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Getting health care, as Vice President Joe Biden so famously said, was a “big f--king deal.” Unfortunately, for so many Americans, it’s still a big deal. Even though the ACA allowed millions of Americans to purchase coverage for the first time, it’s still too hard and too expensive for many to access quality care. And while the ACA isn't perfect, either, it is a start — a proactive measure bringing us closer to the day when every American, regardless of background or income or pre-existing condition, has quality health care.

I was in the White House the day President Obama signed the ACA into law. I had spent the last year explaining the law to anyone who would listen, and hadn’t slept in weeks. The day itself was such a whirlwind, but one moment sticks out: the face of Marcelas Owens, the young black child who stood next to President Obama as he made the ACA law.

Owens’ mom died in 2007 because she put off treatment for pulmonary hypertension, since she didn’t have health insurance. How a child could possess the power to turn that unimaginable loss into a victory for millions of other American families, I’ll never know. I remember how Owens stood there, so quietly, in a little navy sweater vest, watching the first black president make history yet again — and this young kid helped make that happen. I would often look back at the iconic photo and try to put myself in Owen’s place. I’m not sure I could have been as brave and as confident at that age, or really ever. Owens’ eventually became known as the “Obamacare kid,” and I’ve never forgotten that image, or that kid.

This week, I watched in horror as Republicans mounted one last hasty effort to repeal the bill I and so many people worked so hard to get into law, through bipartisan hearings, countless meetings with representatives, and talking about the radical notion that all Americans deserved low-cost, high-quality health care.

I decided to look up the Obamacare kid, who always reminded me why I put in so many sleepless nights. Owens, I found out, has come out as a transgender girl. I smiled, thinking about the different protections the ACA introduced to ensure transgender Americans had access to good health care, too — protections that are now up in the air thanks to the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill.

A lot has changed in the last few years. I have my own family now. I can’t imagine what it must’ve felt like for my parents to get health care, and the relief they must’ve felt knowing their children would be covered. When it comes down to it, that’s what the ACA was always about: the idea that America is a family, and we’re better off when our family is better off. I know as well as you do that we’re better off with affordable health insurance for everyone, not an hastily-prepared, secret, repeal bill that won’t even be read before it’s voted on.

You bet your premium the GOP is going to play dirty — with or without John McCain.

Republicans have been shouting “Repeal and replace” since the day the ACA was passed. Right now, they only need 50 votes to strip away these protections, and they're frighteningly close. John McCain’s announcement that he will not support Graham-Cassidy is great news for Obamacare, but there are still eight days until Sept. 30, when Republicans would need more (60) Senate votes to repeal the ACA. This is basically their last chance to do what they’ve promised to do for the past eight years and you bet your premium the GOP is going to play dirty — with or without John McCain.

I know you’re tired. Republicans want that. They’re counting on it. They want to distract you, to tire you, to inundate you so they can push this last repeal bill through in the dead of night. They need you to be asleep, to think, “Oh, it can’t really happen this time.”

But it can happen this time. It will happen this time, if we’re not wide awake. This is Republicans’ last chance to destroy the ACA. And it’s our last chance to show that we won’t let them. Borrowing those words of my buddy Joe Biden, let’s make sure we make this last fight a big f--king deal.