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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

The House of Representatives passed a truly reprehensible bill last week with their “American Health Care Act.” And you better believe I am ticked off (if this wasn’t in print, I’d use stronger language) about it.

The AHCA, if it becomes law, opens the door for insurance companies to either deny coverage or charge substantially more for pre-existing conditions, something the 2010 Affordable Care Act put a stop to.

How many people out there have a “pre-existing condition?” If you’ve ever been hospitalized, odds are you have a pre-existing condition. Take medication for anything? Pre-existing condition. Ladies, ever been pregnant? That’s defined as a pre-existing condition too!

Do we really want to go back to the days when you could be denied coverage for any arbitrary reason? Or where you might technically be able to get coverage, but only if you can afford to shell out a small fortune for it.

This bill provides for “high-risk pools” where those denied individual coverage could get help. And it offers a paltry $138 billion over 10 years – $13.8 billion per year. I’ve read estimates of up to 130 million people with pre-existing conditions, meaning they could be denied coverage under the ACHA. That works out to $1,061.54 per person. Anyone care to bet what kind of coverage a “high-risk” person could get for a thousand bucks? I’m betting on none, which means all of a sudden if you get sick, you could be facing ruinous medical bills. Or you just die. It’s a wonderful choice our representatives are giving us.

The AHCA also allows insurance companies to charge higher premiums for older Americans, something that was limited by Obamacare. If that limit goes away, get ready to watch your premiums skyrocket.

The demise of the individual mandate to have insurance is also ridiculous. Without everyone participating, the entire system collapses. If you only have to have coverage when you get sick, what do you think would happen to costs? Again, you’d be facing a choice of the lesser evil – pay out the nose for insurance, pay exorbitant medical bills or die.

This bill would also strip millions of Americans of their health insurance by ending the expansion of Medicaid, which has benefited millions of Americans. Granted, ending Medicaid expansion wouldn’t do anything in Tennessee because our state legislature, in its collective “wisdom,” opted not to participate. But look right across the border at Kentucky.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, as of November 2016 over 355,000 people who did not have coverage before Obamacare now do, and the state’s uninsured rate had fallen from 20.4 percent to 6 percent. I like to think we could have duplicated such results in Tennessee, had we merely had the foresight to do so.

I don’t write this column as praise for Obamacare. It’s definitely not perfect and could use substantial improvement. To me, a “Medicare for all” plan would be a good place to start. But instead of putting their efforts into improving the current law, Republicans in Congress have wasted seven-plus years casting over 60 useless votes.

Thankfully, the Senate may kill the AHCA. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, said the Senate would “be writing our own bill” in remarks made after the House vote.

Maybe the Senate can restore a little sanity to the process.

I personally plan to contact both our senators to ask them to oppose the AHCA, or at the very least, to put forth a measure that preserves the good things about Obamacare. If you, the reader, want to preserve the ability to get decent health coverage, I strongly urge you to do the same.

Chris Gregory is managing editor of The Hartsville Vidette. Reach him at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.