If there’s one thing that shouldn’t be up for debate in discussing the cluster fuck of a Trump healthcare bill the House of Representatives passed last month and sent to the Senate, it’s what’s actually in the bill. It should be expected, you’d think, that lawmakers would be honest about what is actually in a bill, but we live in the land of magical thinking and alternative facts now, so we’re surrounded by politicians and media twisting truths to make the hot poker they want us to swallow a little more stomachable. Much like the issues addressed in the last What the Health, there is another big bomb in the AHCA that politicians are trying to finesse, and that’s the fact that if the bill becomes a law, people who’ve been treated for rape or sexual assault could be denied coverage.
This election made on thing very clear: the spread of misinformation is still a powerful political tool, and the internet has made it easier than ever to spread untruths. No matter how many Washington Post widgets, or Think Progress videos on how to self-fact check came out, Trump’s supporters continued to whole heartedly believe his lies, gleefully read through the trench of fake news and see the backlash as liberal propaganda. Ever since our astonishing election, plenty has been said about the media’s roll in its outcome, but what’s not being addressed is that despite Facebook finally showing up to the accountability table and beginning to police sites that churn out absolute bullshit next to bald eagles and cartoons of Hillary in a jumpsuit, the misinformation still flows, especially about the AHCA.
If you click around online trying to find out about what the AHCA has to say about rape, sexual assault, and even pregnancy, it’s hard to discern what’s what. There are sites like NPR and CNN that laid it out, even big women’s glossies like Allure and millennial women’s sites like Refinery 29 reported on how the law could dramatically affect women’s health. But those aren’t sites that MAGA Martha in Iowa is going to click on. No, that demographic is much more likely to go for headlines like, “Calif. Democrat repeats misleading claim rape a preexisting condition under GOP bill,” from PolitiFact. Or, “No, the AHCA doesn’t make rape a preexisting condition,” from Reason.
Even the Washington Post, the most ardently critical publication of the Trump’s campaign and subsequent administration’s lies, went in on the topic with the headline, “Despite critic’s claims, the GOP health bill doesn’t classify rape or sexual assault as a preexisting condition.” And perhaps that’s the crux of the whole issue, is that whereas conservatives are more apt to accept falsehoods as fact, progressives are more likely to argue over semantics until they’re blue in the face and the real issue isn’t even the topic anymore.
The Post’s stance was that the bill doesn’t explicitly deem rape or sexual assault a preexisting condition. And that is true. But the bill will still allow for insurance carriers to self-police what they deem preexisting conditions, and for states to apply to be exempt from the federal mandate that carriers in their states cover preexisting conditions, which means that under the AHCA carriers can and will refuse to cover survivors of rape and sexual assault. Before the ACA, many carriers did make it a practice to deny coverage to those had previously been treated for depression—which is required in most sexual assault treatment plans—or HIV, including the preventative HIV treatment given to rape survivors in hospitals.
The AHCA’s defense of the risk they are putting women at is that there will be an 8 billion dollar pool to assist those who can’t get coverage or whose healthcare costs skyrocket due to the AHCA. But like most of the numbers coming from the GOP camp, that’s a gross miscalculation. Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at healthcare watchdog the Kaiser Family Foundation told ABC News that number would only assist hundreds of thousands of people, and the amount of people in the individual marketplace who will be in need of access to those funds will be closer to 10 million.
It needs to be made crystal clear that this is a war on women. Within the AHCA pregnant women, or women who’ve been pregnant before will also be at risk, as C-sections were also often considered preexisting conditions by many carriers before the ACA. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in regards to access to birth control, but it wasn’t until the ACA that it was covered for free on most plans, and that is likely to not stay in the AHCA.
It is true, the AHCA does not explicitly deem rape and sexual assault a preexisting condition, but it does perfectly lay the ground work for women who experience those terrors, or even just have a complicated pregnancy, to be turned down health coverage for their care. That’s evil. And let’s not mince words. It is absolutely designed to end the trend of high profile rape and assault cases ending careers of “promising athletes” or even Bill O’Riley, which have become more prevalent as feminism has taken a hold on the current popular conversation. We’re luckily still a far cry from The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s intricate, confusing, sneaky things like this being snuck into legislation that build upon one another until reality might just look even more like Margaret Atwood’s dystopia after all.
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Chloe Stillwell is a Nashville-based columnist focusing on politics, culture and feminism.