A Health Care War On The Poor
By Kathleen Sebelius and Ron Pollack
Health Affairs Blog, June 27, 2017
Many criticisms have been leveled against the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act- the new Senate health bill offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The unmistakable hallmark of these bills, however, is that they constitute a very cruel war on the poor. By far, no demographic group would be hurt more by these legislative proposals than low-income people. They are the bulls-eye!
As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found, over the next decade the largest cutback in the Senate and House bills are reductions to the safety-net Medicaid program (a $772 billion cut in the Senate bill, and an $834 billion cut in the House bill).
Additionally, there are significant cuts to the subsidies that were designed to make private insurance premiums and cost-sharing affordable for low- and moderate-income families, with $424 billion cut in the Senate bill and $276 billion cut in the House bill.
These decreases, which would cause enormous harm to low-income families, are obviously not part of an overall scheme to promote fiscal prudence since both the Senate and House bills lavish huge tax benefits to the rich and special interest groups. The Senate provides $541 billion in such tax benefits, and the House provides $664 billion.
According to CBO, the proposals in both the Senate and House bills would cause huge numbers of people to become uninsured within a decade. The Senate bill would cause 22 million to lose coverage, and the House bill would force 23 million into the ranks of the uninsured. In total, at least 49 million would be uninsured – more than the aggregate population of almost half (24) the states in our nation.
The bottom line is clear: While both the House and Senate bills provide unneeded tax help for wealthier people, the Republicans’ war on the poor would cause many and very severe casualties on people with greatest needs. Hopefully senators of good will call for an immediate and complete cease fire.
Health Affairs Reader Response:
By Robert Stone, M.D.
“War on the Poor” is strong language, and sometimes strong language is appropriate to a discussion, even in as sober a journal as Health Affairs. I would use even stronger language. The 6/27/17 Annals of Internal Medicine article “The Relationship of Health Insurance and Mortality: Is Lack of Insurance Deadly” is the most definitive peer-reviewed publication yet showing that removing healthcare coverage for millions of Americans will lead to thousands of preventable deaths per year. What do we stand for as a nation? This is a murderous bill. The bill, either House or Senate version is a huge tax cut for the wealthy, paid for by the middle class and the poor. Why is there such a rush to pass it without discussion and debate? It appears to me the reason for that is because Senators’ wealthy donors want to see the tax cuts. Therefore, you could call this bill not only murderous, but “Murder for hire.”
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Rob Stone is one of us. He has been a very active participant and a thought leader in PNHP for a couple of decades. His message for us today is that we have to start saying it like it is. The fact that so many Senators are on record as being willing to enact legislation that will kill thousands of Americans in exchange for payments from wealthy donors who want the associated tax cuts, that does constitute “Murder for hire.”
The politicians are not alone in this conspiracy. We can no longer accept an “arm’s length” excuse to allow these wealthy donors to escape blame. The work of Gilens and Page has shown that it is these very individuals who drive the process (link below). They are the ones who are hiring the murderers (though Gilens and Page would confine their rhetoric to benign academic language). And, yes, the members of Congress are murderers when they enact policies that they know will kill people.
At PNHP we have been gentlepersons as we advocate for policies that will enhance health, reduce physical suffering, and prevent financial hardship for all residents of America (and next, the world). Yet we see policies perpetuated that inflict so much harm (and, by no coincidence, at a great financial cost), and we complain that their policies are wrong and that we have better policies. Is arguing policy enough when it is devoid of warranted intense emotional expression?
But something has been happening. Americans now understand that the improvements of Obamacare are grossly deficient since too many people are unable to receive or afford the medical care that they need. Bernie Sanders came along and told us that expanding Medicare to include everyone through a single payer system would make health care affordable and accessible to all. Those of us who have long supported those views have joined him a clarion call for health care justice for all.
Although single payer sounded like a pretty good idea to those who hadn’t given it much thought, many were still hoping Trump and the Republicans could bring us health care nirvana through repeal and replace. But now Americans have had a rude awakening in discovering that the repeal and replace movement of the past six years has been a fraud. The Republicans finally had to bring their proposal out from the closet for what they hoped would be quick action before rushing home to pick up their checks from their wealthy donors. But we peeked! The American people have now found out that the replacement would make access and affordability much worse – not at all what they were asking for when they supported the campaign to repeal Obamacare.
Of course we do not want to change our policy positions on single payer. We have what America needs. But it may help to deliver the message if we turn up the volume on our rhetoric, just like Rob Stone has done in today’s message. However, a crucial caveat is that it is absolutely imperative that we be extremely meticulous in the accuracy of our rhetoric in order to maintain the credibility that we have established. This is not a name calling contest. But when policies kill, we need to say so. If in doubt, don’t, but when there is absolutely no doubt, say it.
Many positive terms have been used in the labeling of legislation in order to hide the negative impact: “affordable” when health care remains unaffordable, “better care” when more people lose their care, “access” when increased financial barriers impair access, and even “American” when the policies supported are un-American. Although the words themselves are not bad words, they are tarnished when used in dishonest rhetoric (although “American” still seems to hold its own in spite of current day challenges).
That said, we cannot let negativity drown out our very positive message of guaranteed, affordable health care for all – the single payer message. That needs to be front and center, but how do we do that? Well, we are already doing it by having been meticulous with the truth. When we say “an improved Medicare for all” people understand that we are referring to a revered program that will be further improved and made available to all. Even the term “single payer” – a neutral technical policy term – has been used extensively as part of the positive message of health care for all.
With our continued efforts to deliver this very positive message, “single payer” and “improved Medicare for all” are rightfully taking their place on the top shelf in the rhetoric library, alongside “Mom” and “apple pie” – a nice thought as we celebrate our nation’s birthday.
Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”:
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