How Trumpcare Threatens the Lives of Women Living with HIV

by Emili Ema Sedlar

May 15, 2017: Just over two weeks ago, The American Health Care Act, a.k.a. Trumpcare, passed the House and caused outrage across the US. For one, Trumpcare targets and harms women’s rights: the bill supports restrictions to abortion and would block Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions.

We’ve seen Trump openly speak during interview and debates about how he’s against the rights of women to decide what to do with their own bodies. However, not as many are aware of how Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice President and one of the supporters of Trumpcare, caused an atrocious HIV outbreak back in 2015 while he was still governor in Indiana. Pence helped remove funding and support to Planned Parenthood clinics, which caused five Planned Parenthood clinics to close down that provided HIV testing. After that shocking act, there were 20 new cases of HIV each week. He also resisted lifting the state’s ban on needle exchanges, and when he finally did, he did so only partially.

The situation gets worse, because this new bill causes fear and confusion, endagering the over 1.2 mlion people in the US that are living with HIV. I’ve spoken to courageous women that have shared their thoughts and fears of Trumpcare and how they’re dealing with the situation of uncertainty.

Gina Brown recently started working as a community organizer with the Southern AIDS Coalition. She is an HIV activist and is passionate about the things that impact people living with HIV. Brown has been living with HIV for 23 years and has expressed her worries of Trumpcare, stating how she already feels under great threat. “I have a preexisting condition. I won’t be able to afford premiums and rent, so I may have to go without my meds, which will make me sick. This bill isn’t law yet, and it’s affecting my health already. I feel anxious, scared and angry…none of which are good for my HIV,” answered Brown.

Furthermore, Brown explained how this bill will deeply affect the HIV community, in which there will be more and more tragedies when there shouldn’t be, given the current state of medical treatment for those that are living with HIV. “My greatest concern is that people living with HIV are going to being dying again. We’ve finally gotten the majority of Americans tested and those who do find out they are living with HIV are now being linked into care in bigger numbers. We are creating blueprints to greatly reduce HIV in this country, but that won’t happen if this farce of a bill AHCA is passed,” explained Brown.

Brown concluded that the current government will immediately target people with HIV: “They already feel like we contracted HIV because we’re ‘bad,’ or somehow we don’t deserve to live a long, healthy life.”

On the other hand, Shyronn Jones, a 38-year-old mother and activist, worries this bill will cause a rise of inequity towards people living with HIV. “If Trumpcare is passed, I believe there will be a rise of discrimination towards people living with HIV. Trump has already targeted people with disabilities and has shown a lack of sensitivity to many groups,” she said.

Moreover, Jones described how she is concerned of finding herself even more underinsured. In order to meet her basic care, she has to utilize four sources of health coverage, due to the limitations of each. “Managing the continuity of four health insurances is enough to raise my stress and anxiety levels; the added burden of not receiving the care I need would be catastrophic to my mental and physical health,” Jones clarified.

Jones also added how she has spoken to many people who are worried and scared about Trumpcare; she has signed petitions against this bill. “Many people think we should focus on protecting the ACA (Obamacare) and improving upon it rather than trying to improve the AHCA (Trumpcare) which is inherently flawed, as it is basically all about rolling back health care funding and benefits in order to give more tax breaks to the rich.”

In addition to signing petitions, calling her members of Congress and meeting with legislators in-person to urging them to protect Medicaid, Shyronn has been featured in national publications to save Medicaid funding such as The National Health Law Program, in which she talks about why Medicaid is vital for women living with HIV and how has Medicaid has helped her family.

Waheedah Shabazz-El, Regional Organizing Director of Positive Women’s Network – USA, explained that she fears that health care will become unaffordable, thus leading to a complicated situation in which many won’t be able to get the medications and help needed.

“The health coverage I have now allows me to see my medical provider and HIV specialist every 90 days. The status of my HIV is monitored through regular blood work…If health care becomes unaffordable, I will no longer be able to access my medical provider, and will not have access to a standard of care which monitors how well I am doing living with HIV in my body. The lifesaving medications will no longer be accessible to me without a health care plan that I can afford,” explained Shabazz-El.

She was also incensed that the U.S. government would go after its own people, targeting and hurting those that need health care the most. “How can I be a citizen of the wealthiest country on Earth, yet my life and the lives of millions of others like me seem to have so little value that our own government, in whom we place our democratic trust, would work so hard to deny healthcare to those who need it the most? It is just unfathomable,” declared Shabazz-El.

These women, however, have not lost hope. If needed, they will fight back in the name of those who are not heard and who need protection. The bill still must clear the Senate, which has shown resistance to its current form. With intense pressure from constituents, efforts to push it through could fail.  Women like Gina Brown, Shyronn Jones and Waheedah Shabazz-El are role models to many activists today and in the future, when we will be needing them the most.