Now that the dust has settled, it’d be redundant for me to hop aboard the think piece band wagon, skewering the political circus that was President Trump and Speaker Ryan’s catastrophic attempt to reform the pseudo-caste-system, Frankenstein’s-monster of a national health care program that plagues America. I’d rather not contribute to the black hole of op-eds that walk that partisan line, often failing to address more worrisome, long-term questions.
Once the talk of the nation, health care reform is now treated like old news. I realize the White House exerts a great deal of influence over what journalists and their audiences consider newsworthy. Its domestic agenda (or lack thereof) and recent tumultuous actions abroad fuel the focus of American media coverage, so debates are bound to come and go. And yet, while mainstream sources like NBC’s Brian Williams might move to the swing of things, lauding revenge bombings in Syria with comparisons to Leonard Cohen songs, I’m hesitant to dance to the commands of our ringmaster-in-chief. By no means do I intend to diminish the seriousness of the atrocities occurring in Syria, but why did all of that coverage and pressure have to go when health care reform continues to be a matter of public interest?
It’s pertinent that the majority of Americans want reforms to our faulty system. In fact, as of January 2017, 60 percent of Americans believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure health coverage.
“The share [of the population] saying it is the government’s responsibility has increased from 51 percent last year and now stands at its highest point in nearly a decade,” reads Kristen Balik of Pew Research’s write up of the poll’s findings.
In comparison to other wealthy nations, the United States, the wealthiest in the world, currently spends far more—around 17 percent of GDP, almost 50 percent higher than France, who are the next highest spender at 11 percent—to provide some of the worst coverage with respect to both access and the quality of care. With an all-around governmental stalemate on the subject since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed on March 23, 2010, as of 2016, 28.2 million continue to lack access to any form of coverage.
“For those who do have private coverage, the costs of care remain a heavy, and growing, burden,” Eric Schnurer of The Atlantic wrote on the disparities in care. “These problems tend to reinforce each other. For instance, the cost[s] of care for those lacking coverage get absorbed by those who have it. An emphasis on expensive, technologically-advanced treatments for catastrophic illnesses raises costs across the board, driving many away from obtaining less-critical care that could keep more people healthy.”
For Democrats to temporarily wipe their hands with the subject, blame Republicans, and bookmark the legislative failure of this spring’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) for political points come 2018 is unacceptable. While the rejection of this bill is a huge step in the direction of the fight for universal coverage, we cannot afford to stop talking about it. Morally, fiscally, or whatever definition of affordability you prescribe to, it just doesn’t make sense.
This is not to say that some legislators haven’t attempted the expansion of coverage at the state level since the ACA passed seven years ago. In Colorado last November, a ballot initiative for universal health care, Amendment 69, was presented and struck down with over a 50 percent spread by an endorsement-stacked, bipartisan-led opposition for similar reasons to that of this year’s AHCA: a lack of specifics.
“The costs and the unknowns are the big points that the anti-ColoradoCare group Coloradans for Coloradans hit in its campaign literature,” John Ingold of the Denver Post wrote extensively during the debate over the ColoradoCare Amendment. “The group says the amendment would give Colorado the highest income tax rates in the country and that businesses could end up leaving the state because of the payroll taxes.”
To be fair to ColoradoCare, of course income taxes would have increased. The state would provide the health coverage its citizens would otherwise be paying for. However, advocates’ inability to concretely answer questions about the potential decrease in patient choice of providers, paranoia over economic stagnation with threats of businesses moving out of state to avoid the increase of taxes, and a lack of coverage for elective abortions buried the bill’s chances.
In California, a similar debate is happening right now. Senate Bill 562 was introduced to legislators this past February. The Healthy California Act intends to eliminate both copays and insurance deductibles, providing coverage for inpatient, outpatient, emergency care, dental, vision, mental health, and nursing home care. However, with financing specifics largely unaccounted for, state-level political powerhouses like Governor Jerry Brown have refused to get behind the legislation so far. Passing this bill appears to be a uphill battle.
As with marijuana and gay marriage, the state level has often proved a barometer for the success of progressive legislation on the national debate stage in the United States. Progressive leaders at the state level must continue to push for health care reform here, as polling indicates the tide of public approval. Other countries with national health care systems, like Canada, achieved health care reforms in a similar fashion, beginning at the provincial and local level in Saskatchewan and eventually bringing the fight to the national stage.
The bottom line is that millions continue to lack access to basic health care in the United States. Life expectancies for the top 1 percent of American men remain nearly 15 years longer than the bottom 1 percent of male income earners; among women of the same income brackets, the respective disparity is a little over 10 years, according to an MIT study conducted last year. The media must continue to hold our government accountable for health care reform failures, and politicians need to begin forming a baseline definition for what health care the government ought to provide. Does our right to life begin and end in the womb or should it extend beyond that?
We can spend our days poking fun at this spring’s AHCA catastrophe but we have to learn from these failures. The matter of health care reform is, quite simply, a conversation we cannot afford to allow to die.