Opinion: Americans deserve affordable health care

Ellen Lipton

When I was 27, I woke up one morning with no vision in my left eye. I went to the doctor, and I’ll never forget sitting on the examination table, anxiously awaiting my diagnosis. What he told me would change my life forever: “Ellen, you have MS.”

Multiple Sclerosis is a lifelong disease that attacks your central nervous system. For many, it can result in a wheelchair-bound life. I thought in that moment that my life might be over.

I was a newlywed beginning an exciting career as a patent attorney with a background in biochemistry. I was driven to have it all — driven to make partner, driven to have kids, driven to achieve the American dream of growing up in a middle class family and becoming successful.

Over time, I came to accept that the path I’d set out for myself would be altered forever. But because I had excellent health insurance, I could afford the expensive medications that gave me the opportunity to live a healthy life. I still made partner at 29, and I still had two beautiful children, while life with MS took on an entirely new meaning.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans were given the chance that I had, to live a healthy life with a pre-existing condition, Lipton writes.

Gradually, I came to view my diagnosis not as a weakness, but a strength. I found that it gave me an extraordinary determination to live my life to the fullest. And it was my diagnosis with MS that eventually led me to an unexpected life in politics.

My medication was developed through stem-cell research—and yet, in the mid-2000s, stem-cell research was illegal in Michigan. When I learned that the research that changed my life was banned outright in my home state, I was outraged. I knew that an untold number of Michiganders were being denied the chance that I had for a healthier life because of a law that made no sense. So I made up my mind to change it.

Putting my practice on hold, I traveled around Michigan as a citizen activist for a ballot initiative to remove the state’s ban on stem-cell research. Through that experience, I learned the power of ordinary people coming together to make change for the better. That experience inspired me to run for office, and I went on to serve three terms as a state representative.

None of this would have been possible except for my health insurance. Because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans were given the chance that I had, to live a healthy life with a pre-existing condition. And yet now President Trump wants to take that away.

This month, Trump’s Department of Justice has announced that it won’t defend ACA provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions. This move is a moral outrage and a cruel and unnecessary punishment for people like me—people who need good health care to give them a chance for a healthy, productive life. It also means that insurers could charge older patients much higher premiums, both in the individual market and for small business employees. It threatens the insurance that we all access, whether employer-provided or through an exchange.

No one’s lot in life should be determined by whether they’re one of the lucky ones who can afford health care. If I am elected to Congress, I will support Medicare for All, because I believe every single American deserves health care as a right. It’s time to stop subjecting millions of Americans to the constant threat of losing their health care, and it’s time to stop putting profits over people. Universal health care can be a reality in this country. We simply need the courage to make it possible.

Ellen Lipton is a former three-term state representative and currently serves as the founder and president of the Michigan Promise Zone Association. She is running for Congress in the 9th District.