I'm alive today because of the Affordable Care Act.
After coming out as transgender at age 56, I found myself coping with a recent divorce after 20 years and struggling with the loss of everything I knew. I had moved out of my home, lost my pets and job, and was struggling to find work.
On top of that (and like millions of Americans), I struggled to pay for my medications. I have intrinsic rapid onset asthma and need medication -- quite literally -- to breathe. The drugs that I needed cost $800 each month, and that was in addition to the $400 I had to pay for health insurance premiums. And forget about access to anything related to gender transition -- in 2013, anything associated with my diagnosis of gender incongruence simply wasn't covered.
I had no choice but to burn through my savings, then turn to credit cards to pay for my medication.
Just the thought of needing additional health care to transition terrified me. I couldn't afford the asthma medicine that was keeping me alive. How would I ever be able to afford to transition and live authentically?
Fortunately, Rachel, an insurance assister at the GLBT Center of Colorado, saved me. Rachel helped me sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. When she told me that my medications would be fully covered, I thought I would cry. When she said my transition-related care was covered too, tears rolled down my cheeks.
My life was changed. Because of the Affordable Care Act, my monthly premium went down by $50. All of my medications were covered, saving me hundreds of dollars each month. And I was able to transition to embrace life as my authentic self.
I was finally able to breathe again. And now I'm fortunate enough to help older Americans stay in their homes -- rather than a nursing home -- thanks to funding provided by the Medicaid program.
Now, after years of having access to affordable, lifesaving health care, everything is at risk.
The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a system that cuts taxes for the wealthy while taking away health insurance for at least 22 million more Americans will harm me and so many other transgender people.
Prior to the Affordable Care Act, transgender people were overwhelmingly uninsured: About 59 percent of low- and middle-income transgender people were uninsured in 2013. That's nearly two-thirds of our community! But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more transgender people -- 75 percent -- have coverage than ever before. On top of that, the coverage itself is better than ever, with more plans covering transition-related care than ever before.
We cannot afford to go backwards. All of the gains we've made will be wiped away if Mitch McConnell makes enough backroom deals with senators to pass his bill. A bill we already know will cause tens of millions more people to go without health insurance. A bill that devastates the Medicaid program. A bill that will raise premiums by 20 percent next year. If this happens, my health is at risk -- I'll lose all hope of access to health insurance and, with it, the asthma medication that I need to breathe.
It's time for the Senate to stop playing politics with our lives. That goes for me, for millions of LGBTQ people, for the older Americans I serve each and every day, and for millions of families across the country.
Enough is enough, and we must fight for our health.
REGINA KALACOVA is a metal artist and owns her own small business providing in-home services to elderly clients, enabling them to stay in their homes. Regina makes her home in Denver.