Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) accompanied a panel at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy Tuesday night to discuss the impacts of the Affordable Care Act. The panel, hosted by the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats along with Progressives at the University of Michigan, also answered public questions to an audience of approximately 100 students, faculty and community members.

Panelists began by laying out facts about the ACA itself, explaining that 20 million previously uninsured Americans gained health insurance because of the act. In Michigan, the “Healthy Michigan” plan reduced the number of uninsured citizens by 50 percent, allowing nearly 700,000 people in Michigan to gain health insurance, according to Dingell. 

The panel comes during a time of concerns surrounding a possible repeal of the ACA from GOP lawmakers. Panelists described the idea of “repeal and replace” as more of a slogan than a plan coming from Congressional Republicans. They said if the ACA is repealed, it will need to be replaced; however, lawmakers have yet to bring forth a definitive plan for replacement.

“In the last year, we’ve heard discussion of increasing premium costs and higher deductibles, and we do need to worry about that, there’s no question about it,” Dingell said. “There are a lot of statistics and numbers but we need to know what the facts are, we need to understand.”

Laurie Burchett, an insurance specialist at University Health Service, stated that for students who obtain an illness that needs to be treated at an outside facility, health insurance is a requirement. She has found, however, that many students at the University do not have their own health insurance and cannot receive this treatment. She continued by explaining that the portion of the ACA that allows young adults to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26 is crucial for college students.

Claire Fitzgerald, a senior majoring in political science, gender and health studies and business, was also a member of the panel. She described her experiences as a college student and how the ACA has affected her and her classmates.

“For college students in particular, the ACA gives us the ability to receive access to contraceptive provision, preventive sexual health care and the mental health support and flu shots we need in a crucial and tumultuous time without worrying about obtaining coverage outside our parents’ plan,” she said.

Fitzgerald recalled a time when she contracted mononucleosis and had to be hospitalized for a week. She said if she were not able to be on her parent’s health insurance, paying for the large hospital bills would have been extremely difficult.

Panelists also described how women in particular are affected by the ACA, as they are provided contraceptives, prenatal care, mammograms and several other preventative screenings.

When moderators opened the floor to the audience, many attendees had questions regarding what they could do as individuals to advocate for the ACA. Panelist Michael Budros, a Rackham student, stressed the importance of outreach and education, especially toward those who may not understand the entirety of the current situation.

He said there are many people who have health insurance under the ACA without realizing it and at the same time hold a disdain for the legislation under its more common name, “Obamacare.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of talking to your friends and families, especially people who live in different areas,” he said. “They might know that they’re benefiting from the Affordable Care Act but hate Obamacare.”

Dingell stressed situations surrounding controversial issues like the ACA should not be made political. She said in cases that affect the well-being of citizens, public health is not a matter of political ideologies.

“This isn’t a partisan fight, it’s about real people’s lives,” she said. “There are a lot of people that are just scared to death about what’s going to happen to them, so that’s why I am so concerned about this because this isn’t a political game, it’s real people’s lives, and that’s why it does matter and it is so important.”

LSA freshman Kieran Byrne attended the panel as a member of a younger generation that has seen the ACA in action for the majority of their lives, and who hasn’t personally experienced any major effects from other health care plans. He explained the importance of students from this generation attending panels such as this one and educating themselves on issues that could change very quickly in the near future.

“I think it’s important that people have a good idea of what’s going on in terms of the legislation that’s going to happen and what laws are already doing for us,” he said. “I think a lot of news and information is very sensationalized and it’s important to hear from the people who actually have an impact.”

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