I'm a proud member of the Duluth community and a small-business owner. I am grateful to say we've been in business for four challenging and fun years. But that might not have been possible without the protections and coverage provided through the Affordable Care Act, or ACA.
While my particular health challenges may be unusual, I'm not alone. I'm among 133 million people in the U.S. with a pre-existing health condition, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like so many others, my health and overall quality of life depend on the ACA.
As a small business owner, the ACA does more than protect my personal quality of life; it helps maintain stability for my business, my employees, and the community we serve.
Recently, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling that threatens my health care - and quite possibly yours or that of someone you love. Siding with a group of Republican state attorneys general, the judge decided the whole Affordable Care Act should be thrown out.
Lobbied for by opponents of the ACA, if this decision goes into effect, it essentially could steal affordable health care from millions of people, including me.
When I turned 26 and was no longer eligible for coverage under my parents, I sought health insurance from the company which previously covered me. I was denied health insurance because of my pre-existing condition, and I was terrified.
Thankfully, at about the same time, Congress passed the ACA. It barred insurance corporations from rejecting people, pricing us out of coverage, or excluding services based on our health conditions. It also created opportunities for state lawmakers to provide health care to more people.
In 2013, Minnesota did just that. Gov. Mark Dayton signed bills to expand Medicaid and to create MNsure. Because of that legislation, I qualified for health insurance through MNsure. The federal passage of the ACA saved me from being discriminated against, and Minnesota's expansion of the law helped me maintain financial stability as I took the risk of starting a business.
Since starting my business, I've needed five surgeries. Each one was covered through MNsure, making all the difference for me, my business, and my employees. I can only imagine how much money I would have owed without the program. It likely would have put me out of business.
Instead, I'm proud to say my business has been able to grow, by adding to our products and production, expanding our presence in the community, and adding two employees who are paid living wages and benefits.
That's why I'm outraged this judge's decision could wipe out the progress we've collectively made in getting health care to more people.
Repealing health care access and rights isn't what voters turned out for on Nov. 6. We selected a new Congress to stop any more efforts to repeal the ACA, to stop the sabotage of the administration of President Donald Trump, and to protect people with pre-existing conditions. In three states, voters also passed Medicaid expansion.
Now more than ever we need democracy in our health care. This judge's decision must be reversed, and our lawmakers at the state and federal levels must do everything they can to make universal health care a reality.
There are so many people in our community just like me, people with new ideas and a dream of starting a business but who also are in need health care. We should do more, not less, to make sure no one is blocked from their dreams because of the cost of health care.
Elizabeth Spehar is the owner of the Snooty Fox Tea Shop in Duluth and is a member of the Main Street Alliance (mainstreetalliance.org/minnesota).