What does the American Health Care Act mean for survivors of rape?

Rape. Consisting of a paltry one syllable and four letters, it is hardly the most impressive word in the English dictionary; however, in its meaning and its execution, in its statistically evident prevalence in society today, it is most certainly one of the most insidious. One syllable, four letters, and an exertion of unlawful, unwanted sexual power is what it takes to strip a person of their sense of agency and self-control, leaving them victims of a crime they spend months, years, and even lifetimes trying to recover from.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA), which was passed by the GOP earlier this month, possibly complicates this already complicated recovery process even further.

After a sexual assault occurs, patients can (and usually do) refer to a number of treatments to facilitate their recovery or to act as preventative measures from additional damage. Some victims are prescribed medications to prevent them from contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, while others, who unfortunately do contract said diseases as a result of the trauma, are prescribed medicines in the treatment of these new afflictions. Mental health counseling is also common for sexual assault patients due to diagnoses of PTSD and likewise conditions.

Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, people could be declined coverage or charged more for insurance if they took medications to treat HIV/AIDs or had existing mental health conditions. These high risk flags were of course common to survivors of rape and led to them being excluded from buying policies essential to their continued health care in the aftermath of their assaults. After the ACA was passed, however, insurance companies were compelled to provide comprehensive coverage of essential health benefits, which meant that they could not deny policies or charge people more based on pre-existing conditions.

What if the definition of ‘essential health benefits’ could be altered, though? Shifted around to benefit insurers as opposed to clients?

The language of the newly passed AHCA accounts for this uneasy question with an equally uneasy answer. Through the new bill, and by the means of a loophole, states are allowed to apply for waivers from certain ACA provisions, such as the ones which allowed for rape survivors to receive mental health counseling or treatment for HIV/AIDS. Insurers could once again, as they had done during pre-ACA years, indirectly discriminate against rape survivors by declining coverage or introducing higher premiums.

Rape. One syllable and four letters, a crime of sexual agency. Rape. It doesn’t have to be a pre-existing condition to affect a victim’s health care.