Opinion: GOP's drastic Medicaid cuts would be devastating for HIV-positive Ohioans like me

Ohio Health Modernization Movement member Olga Irwin pens an opinion piece for Cleveland.com about how the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have a negative impact on her health and that of countless other people living with HIV.

Opinion: GOP's drastic Medicaid cuts would be devastating for HIV-positive Ohioans like me

by Olga Irwin, guest columnist, cleveland.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- I have been living with HIV for 20 years. HIV is a very smart and dangerous virus - it can become out of control in your body quickly, and it can make the common cold a deadly illness. To manage my HIV, I take a daily medication that has the dual benefits of keeping the virus from spreading and boosting my immune system. Missing even one dose of my medication is not an option.

Unfortunately, HIV is not the only health problem I am dealing with. I also have diabetes, high blood pressure and bone disease from years of HIV medication. And, of course, I need regular treatment for those, too - insulin injections for my diabetes, a blood pressure control medication, and pain killers and physical therapy for my bone disease. The combined cost of these treatments is about $9,000 each month. That would be an impossible amount for me to pay even if it was for the entire year.

I spent most of my 20 years with HIV having to choose which of my other health problems I would try to treat each month. The HIV medication alone runs about $3,000 a month, so after paying that co-pay, I simply couldn't afford to treat my other health issues. If I could pay for my insulin in January, I would often have to skip anything beyond my HIV medication in February, and then maybe I'd be able to afford my blood pressure medication the next month.

When the Affordable Care Act became law, it was a big relief for me. It changed my life.

Medicaid expansion meant that, for the first time since I was diagnosed HIV-positive, I was able to afford all of the treatment I needed in the same month. I no longer had to choose what I would treat from month to month.

The combination of Medicaid and Medicare covered all of the medication and treatment I needed. And having my preventive care completely covered has meant I can catch health problems earlier, before they become harder and more expensive to treat.

Getting my health issues under control has also allowed me to become more involved in my community, helping train other HIV-positive women across the country to advocate for themselves and the issues that matter to us, and working with my neighbors to create change for the better.

But now Republicans in Congress are once again pulling out all the stops to take health care away from me and millions of other Americans. The Republican budget plan in Congress would make dramatic cuts to both Medicaid and Medicare. For me, the $1.5 trillion cut to Medicaid could mean a return to the days when I had to decide which medications I could afford each month.

That wouldn't improve our health system. In fact, it would kick millions of us off the insurance rolls, and it would strip Ohio of billions in Medicaid funding. That's a horrific and cruel move to destroy America's health care. And so Republicans can give huge tax cuts to the very wealthy and big corporations. That's just not right.

We elected our senators and members of Congress to represent our best interests - not the interests of the 1 percent. I have said the same directly to Sen. Rob Portman and his staff. I have written to his office. I have visited his Washington office three times and his local office so many times I have lost count. I have even memorized his office number. That's how important this is for me and all Ohioans.

Luckily, significant advances in the treatment of HIV means I can live a long life, never getting AIDS as long as I keep up with my medication. But what good does that do if Republicans make it impossible for me to treat basic health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes that could take me earlier?

The last time I saw Sen. Portman, he told me it was good to put a face on the letters and calls. I hope he thinks of my face, my story and the faces and stories of millions of other Ohioans when he votes on the budget resolution, and that he rejects this disastrous proposal.

We're counting on you, sir.

Olga Irwin is a leader with Valley Voices United for Change and lives in Youngstown.