In 2012, I learned that my mom had been diagnosed with a rapidly developing form of breast cancer. Then, a few years later, my dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My mom has been in remission for a few years, but she still faces many medical complications from her treatments. My dad, on the other hand, faces a likely lifetime fight with MS ahead of him.
Insurance coverage is what has kept our family afloat. That’s why I was so disheartened to see our congresswoman, Mia Love, vote to allow insurance companies to charge sick Utahns more for their health care and exclude coverage benefits that cover pre-existing conditions. The Affordable Care Act forbids insurance companies from denying coverage or charging individuals more based on their health status or gender — people like my mom and dad — but Love voted to take away those protections. My parents are not alone. More than 1.2 million nonelderly people in our state have pre-existing health conditions like asthma, cancer or diabetes.
Love also voted for the tax bill, which showers 83 percent of the benefits on the top 1 percent, while increasing health care premiums for Utahns. But it gets worse. Just this week, leaders in Washington pledged to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to pay for the plan — which they said would pay for itself — as new government data show that it has exploded the deficit. The bill also eliminated the medical expense tax deduction that provided crucial relief to families like mine to pay for medical treatment.
I grew up here, so I know Love’s votes do not reflect our values. That’s why I’m supporting Ben McAdams. He’ll fight to make health care more affordable so that families don’t have to worry about what’s going on in Washington.
I’m also excited about the opportunity to make immediate changes to improve health care by voting yes on Proposition 3, which would expand Medicaid to cover an additional 150,000 of the most vulnerable, low-income Utahns. A new report out this week found that low-income people in states that have not expanded Medicaid are more than twice as likely to skip medical care for affordability reasons than are low-income people in states that have expanded Medicaid. That means that not only are people in our state not getting the health care they need, it also means that when they do get treatment, it could cost more.
If protecting the most vulnerable in our society isn’t a reason to see you at the polls, then what is? The only way that we can make progress is if young people like me show up to vote. Historically, we are roughly half as likely to vote in midterm elections as older voters. Utah’s 4th Congressional District is in the top 10 percent of congressional districts in terms of youth electoral significance. This means that if we young people vote, we will make change. That’s why I am talking with my peers, sharing my family’s story and actively promoting the importance of voting on social media.
As a member of my university’s debate team, I use my position to elevate the importance of civic engagement in every speech and debate. It’s been inspiring to see my peers engage in civic and political discourse in person and over social media. As productive as that may be, there is nothing more likely to create change than a vote. So take a break from Twitter, marches, class and work discussions, grab a friend and head to the polls.
Gabriel Lewis is a Salt Lake City native now in his fourth year at the University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Va.