By Amber Torres 

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was unconstitutional, which puts millions of Americans, especially Native American people, at risk.

Most Native Americans use the Indian Health Service. It’s what we use in our area. Before the ACA, we operated on a Priority Level One, which meant you had to be bleeding, blind or dying to receive any care, allowing only the most seriously ill patients to access health care. When the ACA was enacted, we became Priority Level Four, which means everyone has access to care — you don’t have to be on death’s door to be seen.

The ACA expanded Medicaid, which has allowed more access and coverage to services for our people who often live in rural, desolate areas with limited availability to specialists and a prolonged wait time to get treatment. It also softened the financial burden of Indian Health Service, which is continuously underfunded. Historically, individuals in my community have some of the biggest health disparities due to lack of treatment and the unreliability of Indian Health Service. This is a travesty because Native American people were the first people and our ancestors have paid in full long ago, yet we have the biggest disparity in health care. The ACA has provided affordable coverage for individuals and families in our community. It also has allowed more income to be generated at the tribal health clinic for more direct services to be delivered at the local level for our people.

In late 2018, President Trump said, “I say with respect to the Native Americans … what the hell do you have to lose?” I will tell you: plenty. So far, he has made light of massacres of our people, proposed cuts to Indian Country programs and threatened our lands, and is putting our health care in jeopardy. If the ACA were to be repealed, we will be back at Priority Level One, which will be detrimental to our people’s way of life and particularly the health of our children and elders.

You do not have to walk a mile in my people’s shoes, but at least see the perspective through our eyes and feel the impacts with your heart. Without the ACA, more than 20 million people Americans could lose access to health care coverage. Is that the way of life we want to live as Americans and is that what we deserve? No, it is not. It is now in your hands to protect the people of the United States of America, and make sure our elected leaders make the right decision to keep the Affordable Care Act.

Amber Torres is chairman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe. She lives in Schurz.