When all is said and done, Sister Erin Zubal believes the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is in conflict with the teachings of her faith.
The 34-year-old has spent the last 10 years of her life serving the poor and marginalized as a Catholic nun. Zubal belongs to the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland in Ohio and currently works as a guidance counselor in a Catholic high school. She spoke with Refinery29 about how her job has put her in constant contact with low-income families, many who may be impacted if Obamacare is repealed and there are deep cuts to Medicaid.
That's why Zubal was one of the 7,150 nuns from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. who signed a letter urging senators to vote against the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), the original Republican healthcare bill. Since the letter circulated, Senate Republicans suggested a revised version of the BCRA and a separate bill that would repeal Obamacare without a replacement. And on Tuesday, senators voted to start debate on repealing Obamacare — even though it isn't clear yet which version will be the final one.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that 20 million more people would become uninsured by 2026 if any of the Republican bills becomes law. In terms of Medicaid, 15 million fewer people would be enrolled in the program if Obamacare is repealed. Among those who depend on Medicaid are low-income Americans, people with disabilities, children, seniors, and pregnant women. In other words, the most vulnerable among us.
For Zubal, who preferred not to identify with any political party, this scenario is unthinkable. She believes that leaving so many people without access to healthcare is unjust.
Zubal spoke with us on Wednesday about why she opposes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and what she wishes senators would consider now that they're debating the Republican healthcare overhaul.
What message would you give members of the Senate?
"People need access to healthcare and we have to continue to make sure that we're advocating to take care of all people in our nation. We know the stories of the people that we serve, we know the worry, we know that families are struggling.
"And we know that as a nation that says it works for the general welfare of everyone, we can’t push through legislation that is in conflict to the teachings of our faith and justice, that doesn’t take into account the common good of all people."
What's been your experience with the healthcare system and Obamacare specifically?
"I've spent a lot of time with families of those who I serve in our school, and a lot of times families come to me and they're having to make the choice between paying the electricity and getting healthcare.
"For me, it's about making sure that all the needs of my kids are met — and healthcare is a very large one, especially when they're trying to decide how to spend the little money that they have. And they want to be taken care of, but they also want to have their electricity on at night."
What kinds of difficulties with the U.S. healthcare system have the families you work with told you about?
"A lot of the difficulty comes particularly [from] paying for medication. We know that the cost of prescriptions can be expensive depending on what you need, and then if you need them long-term, that's a recurring cost every month. I have a lot of families that are supposed to take 50mg or 25mg of a pill every day, but they decide to cut it in half to make it last longer, so they don't have to get their refill again as quickly.
“Paying for a car, or making sure you get bus tickets every month to get to and from work and to get your kids to and from school — it all adds up. When you're working day in and day out on [two jobs], even though you're working really hard, it's not enough to make everything meet every month."
What was your motivation behind signing the Senate letter?
"We just want to make sure that our brothers and sisters are getting access to healthcare and what they need to live dignified lives. Because we know that if you're sick, you can't go to work. If you can't go to work, you can't pay your bills. And if you can't pay your bills, the cycle of poverty just continues, and continues, and continues.
"As women of faith, we know what the gospel calls out to. And that's what we try to live every day. That we speak on behalf of those who might not be able to and we continue to advocate for what is right and just for everyone."
What do you think about yesterday's healthcare vote and the current debate?
"It often feels like there's a lack of transparency with the constituents about what are we really talking about here.
"They're voting while I'm sleeping. You wake up to the news and there's been a few votes through the night. We just want to make sure that people continue to be insured, we don't want the number of uninsured Americans to continue to rise."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.