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The United States is one of the few developed nations in the world without universal health care. This has a devastating ripple effect and affects millions of girls and women in the country.

Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate unveiled their new Senate health care bill, called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.” The bill aims to cut $800 billion from Medicaid with more cuts to follow. Medicaid is a government health care program and provides coverage to millions of Americans, including low-income children and adults, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. There are strong feelings on both sides of the aisle, but let’s make one thing very clear: if this bill becomes signed into law, people will die. It is quite effectively a death sentence for many Americans.

The Huffington Post has an easy-to-read breakdown of the Senate bill for anyone (me, included!) who isn’t well versed in health care policy and legislation. A few things stand out that will negatively impact women and girls, such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood. The bill would eliminate federal funding for the reproductive health organization for one year. 60 percent or 2.5 million of Planned Parenthood’s patients rely on Medicaid. The organization gets reimbursed by the government upwards of $500 billion, which is almost half of their budget. Patients go to Planned Parenthood for affordable birth control and other reproductive health care needs. Many women rely on the organization for access to preventative, affordable care. If Planned Parenthood were defunded, which it very well could be, it would have a devastating impact on girls and women around the country, particularly people of color, people with low incomes and people who live in rural communities.

Some Republican senators, like Susan Collins of Maine, are waiting to pass judgment until after the Congressional Budget Office releases its analysis of the new bill. The score could be released as early as this week. The C.B.O. scored a similar bill written by the House and found that around 23 million people would lose insurance coverage in the next decade.

Barring Planned Parenthood’s uncertain future, many of the other cuts in the bill will impact girls and women in the United States. In addition to impacting reproductive health care, the bill also slashes funding for combatting the opioid epidemic. It would also mean people with mental illness could pay more for less coverage.

If you want to know more about the current health care battle, I would encourage you to check out Lauren Duca’s newest op-ed. The Teen Vogue columnist sheds some more light on the issue and has links to even more helpful information. Any way you slice it, the next U.S. health care reform bill will seriously affect girls all over the country.

In the current political climate, I often remind myself of the title of this column, “No Time for Fear.” It is easy to become disheartened, cynical, sad, angry, and yes, fearful. As much as we as a society have progressed on issues affecting women and girls throughout the world, we still have a long way to go. And sometimes it seems girls are up against insurmountable odds: we want to be seen, to be heard, to have our thoughts and opinions be valued and recognized. I believe that the work done by girls and women around the world at this very moment will be used as building blocks for the next generation. I believe in the potential for change, and I have hope in a brighter future. In the meantime, educate yourselves about issues affecting you on a local and national level and continue to speak up for what you believe in.

-Sage Daugherty
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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