Last week I went to the ASCLS & CLMA Siouxland Fall Collaborative Conference in Rapid City, SD. It was two fun filled days of laboratory science continuing education. I listened to topics on body fluids, thyroid disease testing, autoimmune disorders, laboratory quality control and a so much more. It was a laboratory geek’s best work days EVER! I learned a lot and I got paid for it….win-win for me. There were so many good sessions, but only one that I was truly excited for. It was a panel discussion called “The Impact of the Affordable Care Act.”
Yes, the Affordable Care Act will be affecting medical laboratories across the United States. Crap rolls downhill, people; and yes, I am familiar with crap, lots of crap…literally. What screening tests insurance companies are required to cover may be affected. Laboratory fees may be affected. Immunizations may be affected. But honestly, they still don’t know what will and will not change. My job as a Medical Laboratory Technologist may or may not change.
The panel group consisted of Qusi Al-Haj, West River Director for Senator John Thune, Darrell Shoemaker, West River Director for Senator Tim Johnson; and a representative from Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s offices. I can’t remember or figure out who her representative is but he was smart as he sat in the middle and stayed out of the verbal boxing match between the other two.
Shoemaker would ramble and Al-Haj would refute. I watched this happen again and again and again. They talked about critical access hospitals, laboratory fee schedules, what kind of screening tests would still be eligible under the Affordable Care Act. We found out there will be increased funding for trained medical employees, but the laboratory wouldn’t see much, if any of that funding.
Finally they opened questions to the floor, and my boss leaned over to me and told me to be nice. A laboratory manager asked the panel if Medicare would be affected. Mr. Shoemaker told us that not much would be changed and they would all be good changes, such as the donut hole in the prescription plan would be closed. And Mr. Al-Haj did agree, Medicare wouldn’t be affected much under the Affordable Care Act. But the part of Medicare that funds nursing homes, hospice and home health care would be cut drastically. It will be cut so much that these services would become almost non-existent. My father died of cancer two years ago, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like the last few months of his life without home health and hospice. Cutting these programs is a great injustice for this country’s elderly and those dying.
And this is when I stood up and walked to the microphone.
I asked one simple question that a representative from any democrat Senator’s office that is talking in a panel discussion about the Affordable Care Act should easily be able to answer.
My question was, “My question is directed at Mr. Shoemaker. Mr. Shoemaker in your introduction you said that the general public only concentrates on the negatives of the Affordable Care Act and not the positive things about it. As a voter, a conservative writer, a woman and as a laboratory professional, I am having very hard time seeing anything positive about the Affordable Care Act, especially when I see my friends’ insurance rates double, triple and quadruple. Can you please educate me in the many good things about the Affordable Care Act?”
And the air must have been sucked out of the room as Mr. Shoemaker turned a greenish color. Of all the questions I had thought about and wanted to ask, I did as my boss said and I was trying to be nice. All I was asking for was information. There has to be some memo sent from the President to all the Senators about what to say in this situation, isn’t there? Where were the talking points?
Honestly, I just don’t think he was expecting to be asked a hard question that required an answer. In true Democrat-babbling-about-nothing-but-still-talking form, Mr. Shoemaker did answer the question, or at least try. Bottom line, the only example he could come up with was that the 10% of the population that wasn’t or couldn’t be insured would now be able to get insurance.
And then, the voice of truth, knowledge and reasonable thought spoke. Mr. Al-Haj took that Democratic babble and smashed it like a bug. He agreed that yes, 10% can now be insured but at great cost of the 90%. Why did the 90%’s insurance have to get all messed up? He reminded us that the problems we are seeing now are just the tip of the iceberg. It will get worse, much worse, as this Act is implemented. He said there are so many other things that could have been done before or in place of the Affordable Care Act.
Shoemaker interrupted with comments about Connecticut’s state insurance and how there were problems but they worked them out. That both sides of our government need to work together.
This, of course, made me throw up a little in my mouth. And the Democrats really worked together with the Republicans when the government shut down?
Al-Haj glared at Shoemaker and continued speaking. He gave me hope in the dooming shadow of the Affordable Care Act. He talked about a couple of bills coming up that were trying to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. He talked about another bill that would expand access to health care for the low-income and uninsured. There are Senators out there still fighting it.
He then talked about how the Affordable Care Act is affecting his office, as some of his staff will be financially raped by their insurance companies. He also told us that Thune believes that if the Affordable Care Act is good enough for the general public, it is good for him and his staff. They will be switching their insurance to the Affordable Care Act. He told us that Thune questions why it isn’t good enough for the rest of Congress, Senate and the President. He also questions why President Obama is constantly changing the rules.
And then the hour was over. The moderator stopped the panel discussion and graciously thanked all that participated. I did visit with Qusi Al-Haj for a few minutes after the panel. We chatted a bit more about the Act, exchanged business cards and shook hands. I turned to go chat with Mr. Shoemaker and watched him leave the room. It wasn’t worth chasing after him.
Looking back, standing up and asking that question might not have been the best idea. I asked it in room full of laboratory managers from across the state. What would happen if I would apply for a job with one of them? I could potentially have cut my own throat for job-advancement. But I can’t be silent, WE can’t be silent. As members of this great nation, it is our duty to question our politicians, our leaders. It is our duty to ask the tough questions. It is our duty to tell them when they are wrong, when they have overstepped the line and have to reel it back in. It is our duty to vote the “good guys” into office and the “bad guys” out of office. It is our duty to vote. It is our duty to not be silent. We have a voice; we just need to use it.