By Dr. Svetlana Blitshteyn
Americans with disability are a minority, and given the post-election discourse in the country, it is understandable that many people with invisible chronic illness or visible disability may be feeling afraid. What will the future hold, both from the top down in terms of the government policies on healthcare and Americans with disabilities laws, and from the bottom up, in terms of tolerance, acceptance, equality and potential risk of hate acts taking place in the country. While anxiety may be running high, getting educated on facts may lessen the fears while empowering you to remain grounded in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability.
1. Americans with Disabilities Act
A brief review of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is necessary to understand how important this piece of legislation is. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. Since then, it has been one of the country’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.
To be protected under the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
While nothing is certain at this point, ADA is very unlikely to change under the new President-Elect. Rest assured that your rights will remain protected, and you will continue to participate in the mainstream of American life without prejudice or discrimination.
2. Election and Healthcare
The problems with the US healthcare system did not begin with and will not end with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was signed by the President Obama. The Trump Administration proposed the following points that they hope to implement with the help of Congress and states:
-Protect individual conscience in healthcare;
-Protect innocent human life from conception to natural death, including the most defenseless and those Americans with disabilities
-Advance research and development in healthcare
-Reform the Food and Drug Administration so as to put greater focus on the need of patients for new and innovative medical products
-Modernize Medicare so that it will be ready for the challenges posed by the coming retirement of the Baby Boom generation
-Maximize flexibility for states in administering Medicaid to enable states to experiment with innovative methods to deliver healthcare to low-income citizens
With these propositions in mind, should you be concerned about your medical insurance if you have a chronic illness? The short answer is no. The checks and balances that are in place in our government are designed to protect our democracy and our constitutional laws. Therefore, social security disability benefits and healthcare insurance coverage are here to stay, no matter who is the President. The healthcare model may change, but it appears that the President-Elect, who vowed to repeal and replace ACA, is already keeping several important ACA provisions including the “pre-existing conditions” clause prohibiting that health insurers from charging more or deny coverage to you or your child because of a pre-existing health condition like asthma, diabetes, or cancer. The pre-existing condition clause also prevents the medical insurance companies from limiting the benefits if you have a pre-existing condition. Once you have insurance, they can’t refuse to cover treatment for your pre-existing condition. Although a change in Presidency can be unsettling, you will continue to receive medical coverage and other benefits as previously.
3. Election and medical marijuana
If there is good news for everyone regardless of political affiliation, it’s that this election has brought significant progress for the medical marijuana use. On the medical marijuana issue, voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas have approved medical marijuana initiatives. Voters in Montana also rolled back restrictions on an existing medical pot law. Additionally, voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada approved recreational marijuana initiatives, and several other states passed medical marijuana provisions, in what is turning out to be the biggest electoral victory for marijuana reform since 2012, when Colorado and Washington first approved the drug’s recreational use. Still, the new President-Elect leaves a lot of uncertainty about the fate of marijuana measures in the next four years. Under President Obama, federal authorities largely took a hands-off approach to state-level legalization efforts. But an incoming administration more skeptical of drug reform could easily reverse that approach. We remain hopeful that the progress that we’ve gained with medical marijuana use will continue under the new administration.
4. What can YOU do in the post-election time as a person with chronic illness?
The single most important thing you can do is what you have been doing already: taking care of yourself and your family. You must maintain your daily routine and not let the stress, fear and other emotions precipitated by this the election destroy your normalcy. If there is a silver lining in the current discourse of the country is that it has shaken some people to the core, made them realize what they stood for and had opened new passions and directions in life. If you’re one of those people, this may be an opportunity for you to channel your strong emotions into the newly discovered passions, interests or actions within your family, your community or your local government. Despite and because of chronic illness, some people are finding their voice and becoming more proactive in this post-election time than they have ever been before.
5. What can YOU do as a parent of a child with chronic illness?
Our government is about to change, but our core values should not; in fact, this election may have further reaffirmed them. Perhaps the discourse in our country encouraged the much-needed conversation among ourselves and with our children about tolerance, acceptance, equal opportunity, equal rights, justice, kindness, compassion, greatness, and many other principles that make our country and our people great. We do not need to use our presidential candidates as role models for ourselves and our children if we don’t approve of their character or conduct. This election has been different than other elections, and many things that were said and done by the candidates are the very things we teach our children not to do.
Our principles remain firm and continue to be passed on from generation to generation. What is your responsibility as a parent? It is what it always has been, and it is now important more than ever to impress upon our children the concepts of basic human decency: to be kind and to respect everybody, regardless of their race, religion, country of origin, appearance or abilities. Tell them to embrace and defend one another against bullies. Tell them not to engage in school chants that are hateful or hurtful to others. Teach them what to do if they feel offended or threatened in any way by other children or adults. Tell them that they are valuable and just as smart, strong and loved as healthy children. Tell them that they too can change the world and be whatever they choose to be. Tell them that they will succeed despite their illness and also because of it. Tell them that you will be there for them to help them, guide them and protect them, and teach them how to protect themselves and be their own advocate. Tell them to accept and appreciate the help from others, but also how to give back and help others.
People with chronic illness and disabilities may be a minority, but the strength of this community is enormous. Chronic illness fosters the type of endurance and resilience that may not be achievable by many healthy people, and that’s what makes this community so powerful in these uncertain post-election times.