Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 6-26, 27 or 28
Political divisiveness erupting after wacky court rulings, on social media, and even shootings at ballfields, churches and clinics can vanish before a common threat – like grassroots opposition to current health-care reforms. Most of the country agrees that today’s health-care bills jeopardizing one-sixth of the U.S. economy should be defeated, and if a few Republican Senators vote on behalf of the people, it could lead to Medicare For All – a better, cheaper way.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a 142-page draft of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” and the chamber may vote this week, before lawmakers leave for their July 4th recess. The draft comes from GOP-only, closed-door sessions by a 13-member “working group” (all men) including Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Kentucky), who reportedly think its cuts don’t go far enough. Other Republicans, such as Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy and Maine’s Susan Collins, worry how people will suffer. And last week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “None of us have actually seen the language. If we had utilized the process that goes through a committee, I would be able to answer constituents’ questions.”
In contrast, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in 2009 had 46 days of public debate in open committee hearings and the full Senate starting that June before it passed on Christmas Eve. Limiting discussion (and chances for Americans to learn and respond), McConnell refused requests to confer on the proposal, and the draft had little input from experts, relying more on aides and lobbyists. Why the secrecy? With publicity, public pressure can mount, and the GOP has 52 Senators, so if three oppose it, it loses.
More than 100 patient and public-health groups – from AARP and the March of Dimes to the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Associaton – have written to the GOP to object to the process and product. A joint statement about the measure from the American Public Health Association, Prevention Institute, Public Health Institute, and Trust for America's Health, for example, said, “The pain will be felt in every state, every congressional district, and every neighborhood, and those who are most vulnerable will suffer the most.”
The bill provides for deep cuts to Medicaid and eliminates most taxes on the rich that financed expanded coverage. It relaxes insurers’ regulations and let states waive requirements such as providing coverage for pre-existing conditions.
“In broad strokes, the Senate bill is just like the House,” said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, “ – big tax cuts, big cut in federal health spending, big increase in the uninsured.”
The AFL-CIO, which dubbed the draft “wealthcare reform,” added that the measure “would kick seniors out of nursing homes to give tax breaks to corporate CEOs and the wealthiest 1%. It would throw millions off health insurance by cutting Medicaid deeply to give massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest 1%. The health care of millions of Americans – from military veterans to young children, from the elderly to working families, children with special needs and half of all childbirths – hangs in the balance.”
No state has a majority of residents supporting such reforms, according to national polls. (In Illinois, Kaiser reports, 25 percent support but 55 percent oppose the House version.) Such opposition is historically huge, according to the Roper Center – more so than Obamacare, 2008’s bank bailout, 2006’s ban on gay marriage or even Clinton’s 1993 Health Care Plan.
Support is less than one-third in states with swing-vote Senators, such as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) – where Medicaid was expanded to cover more elderly and poor residents – haven’t endorsed the draft.
The main problem isn’t care, it’s the marketplace, reflected in costs and colossal insurance profits. That leads to reconsidering Medicare For All, which isn’t just a socially responsible idea but a financially sound approach. England’s National Health Service (NHS) covers everyone (54.3 million people there) for 122.6 billion pounds, or $154.67 billion. The United States has almost six times as many people, so that would mean an NHS system here would cost $928 billion.
Compare that to mandatory and discretionary expenditures for Medicare and Medicaid ($970.8 billion total) plus the Veterans Health Administration ($64.9 billion), totaling $1 trillion.
We could have Medicare For All for $72 billion LESS than that – for a less-complicated, more-inclusive system favoring patients, not insurers – and save billions more in private health-care spending).
The Senate should defeat McConnell’s Folly and cover 100 percent of the nation for less money.
Besides the fiscal logic, lives are on the line.
[PICTURED: Graphic from #ResistanceRecess.]