The obscene spectacle of House Republicans gathering last week in the Rose Garden to celebrate the House’s passage of a bill that would likely strip insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans, while simultaneously serving as a massive tax break for the wealthy, had the callous feel of the well-heeled dancing on the poors’ graves.
Republicans had painted themselves into a corner. For seven years they had incessantly defamed the Affordable Care Act as nothing short of a dispatch from the devil. They told their constituents that they had a better plan, one that provided everything people liked about the ACA and eliminated everything they didn’t.
As President Donald Trump claimed in January, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He continued, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”
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That, like so much else coming from these folks’ mouths, was a lie.
The bill passed by the House eliminates popular features like guaranteed price protections for people with pre-existing conditions, by allowing states to apply for waivers to remove these protections. Instead of universal insurance coverage, regardless of whether one could “pay for it” as Trump promised, the bill would move in the opposite direction, pricing millions out of coverage.
The ACA had made a basic societal deal: The young, healthy and rich would subsidize access to insurance for the older, sicker and poorer. But this demanded that the former gave a damn about the latter, that people genuinely believed that saving lives was more important than saving money, that we weren’t living some Darwinian “Hunger Games” of health care where health and wealth march in lockstep.
Once again, the party that is vehemently “pro-life” for “persons” in the womb demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy for those very same lives when they are in the world. What is the moral logic here? It is beyond me.
Let’s cut to the quick: Access to affordable health care keeps people alive and healthy and keeps families solvent. Take that away, and people get sick; run up enormous, crippling debt; and, in the worst cases, die. It is really that simple.
People may conveniently disassociate a vote cast in marbled halls from the body stretched out in a wooden box, but make no mistake: They are linked.
In House Speaker Paul Ryan’s feckless attempt to defend this moral abomination of a bill during his floor speech last week, he said, “Let’s give people more choices and more control over their care.”
But this so-called restoration of choice would be in practice, for many, a sentence to death.
Republicans like the Idaho congressman and House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Raúl R. Labrador deny this most basic of truths. Labrador said last week at a town hall, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” It was a stunning expression of idiocy.
According to a 2009 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, “nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance,” and “uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts.”
An analysis last month by the Center for American Progress estimates removing price protections for pre-existing conditions would mean that “individuals with even relatively mild pre-existing conditions would pay thousands of dollars above standard rates to obtain coverage.”
Republicans are likely to pay dearly for this outrage. Nate Silver expressed his thoughts in a piece headlined: “The Health Care Bill Could Be A Job-Killer For GOP Incumbents,” pointing out that the Republican bill is even more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act was when it was being debated, and if Republicans face the same electoral backlash that Democrats faced, “it could put dozens of GOP-held seats in play.” Silver acknowledges that there are “mitigating factors” that could soften the blow for Republicans, but conversely adds, “There’s even a chance that Republicans could suffer a bigger penalty than Democrats did.”
On Friday, The Cook Political Report changed its ratings in 20 districts “all reflecting enhanced opportunities for Democrats” and pointed out:
“House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”
Not only is the bill unpopular among voters, it’s also unpopular in the medical establishment. As The New York Times reported on Thursday: “It is a rare unifying moment. Hospitals, doctors, health insurers and some consumer groups, with few exceptions, are speaking with one voice and urging significant changes to the Republican health care legislation that passed the House on Thursday.”
Whatever eventually comes of the bill, the death threat it poses for many Americans may well be a death wish Republicans have just issued for their own careers. As House Democrats sang as their Republican colleagues made their self-immolating votes: “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”