01/20/2011 08:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Repealing Health, Replacing Care

When Erin was 23, she woke up one morning feeling a little run down. Between jobs and without insurance, she decided to forgo the expense of a doctor's visit. A couple of days later, she awoke in a critical care unit, eventually developing a nerve disorder so severe that it limits her ability to perform even the simplest of day-to-day tasks. Now 26-years-old, simply changing positions makes her light-headed. Her life goals have gone from buying her first home and going to graduate school to simply being able to stand while taking a shower.

Erin did not have the benefit of health care reform. She did not have the option of staying on her parent's insurance. She had been turned down repeatedly by insurance companies on account of her pre-existing condition and was terrified that the insurance she had secured would be rescinded when the cost of her care tripped some unknowable line. It was why she would not speak on the record during the debate. Our broken health care system had forced this young woman into the shadows.

The Republican-led House of Representatives, by a 245 to 189 margin, just voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was a determined, if largely symbolic gesture to undo the sweeping reform of our health care system signed into law by President Obama last March. And, though the Republican leadership has touted its steadfast opposition to "Obamacare" and its commitment to "repeal and replace" the law, their action last night leaves the millions of Americans now benefiting from health care reform -- like Erin -- wondering how undoing this law will make their lives better.

Erin's experience makes poignant, real and obvious the need for reform. She is now benefiting from experimental drug therapy that is very much the result of American medicine's sophistication and excellence. But she is, for the first time, secure in knowing that she will be able to access the wonders of American medicine, and to realize her original life goals as a result. The Affordable Care Act did that.

On Tuesday, a young man named Alexander Lataille, from Rhode Island, testified before a group of Democratic House members. He is a recent college graduate who studied to be an atmospheric scientist, and had a job lined up at a private company which contracts with the Federal Aviation Administration. When the economy went south, however, the opportunity evaporated and he went to University of Rhode Island to take a research assistantship. The job does not offer health benefits, but he has been able to deepen his expertise and increase his value on the job market and to a future employer, all while maintaining health coverage through his mother's plan. The Affordable Care Act did that.

The House vote may end up being symbolic, but the idea of repeal has real consequences for real people. For people like Erin, who struggle with illness, repeal could mean the end of a lifeline and a return to the fear of interrupted care and upended medical progress. For people like Alexander, who are riding out the end of an economic downturn, undoing health care reform represents just one more -- government initiated -- obstacle to independence and the freedom to pursue one's dreams.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act is a step backward. Just ask Erin and Alex, and the millions of Americans like them across this country, who will lose coverage and newfound freedoms if health reform is overturned. They deserve better than that.