Two months. That’s all it took for the Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare to come back from the dead. After a dramatic vote in the Senate that saw John McCain cast the deciding vote to kill a terrible healthcare plan, Senate Republicans are set to try again. Shame on them.
This latest bill, dubbed Graham-Cassidy after the two main sponsors, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, is a horrible piece of deceptive legislation that does the opposite of what the two senators have been claiming in public. Two aspects of this bill should be enough for any legislator with a conscience to vote against it. But, if there’s anything our Republican members of Congress have proven time and time again, it is that if there is a way to fuck the general public while aiding the bottom line of publicly traded companies, they will do so.
The two aspects of the bill that are most alarming to me involve coverage of pre-existing conditions and lifetime coverage limits.
In the first aspect, Graham-Cassidy, if passed, would allow each individual state to decide whether or not the Affordable Care Act’s protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions remains intact. That is, under the ACA, no individual could be denied coverage, or be charged more for a plan, based on the state of their health. In a simple example, a 35-year-old with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes would be charged no more for their insurance than a 35-year-old in perfect health, and the sick individual could not be denied a policy. This type of scenario is crucial for insurance markets to operate for the benefit of their customers.
Should these regulations be removed — considering how many state legislatures are controlled by the GOP, many will be — that second 35-year-old in my example would pay a much lower monthly premium than the other hypothetical person who suffers from a slew of life-threatening medical conditions. At first glance, this appears fair. Why should the healthy person pay the same as someone who is not healthy? Well, that’s how insurance works. The people who don’t need the coverage at the moment subsidize those who do. The reason this is so important for health insurance is that everyone will eventually need health coverage.
The leading causes of death in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are heart disease and cancer. These are medical conditions that are expensive to treat. If an insurance company is allowed to cancel coverage or jack up premiums as soon as someone is diagnosed with these conditions, among many, many others, then all that money they paid into the insurance while they were healthy is wasted. Denial of equal treatment for those with pre-existing conditions or who become sick undermines the very purpose of insurance. The reason insurance companies want this is that they will receive money for a policy they will not be required to honor. That is theft, plain and simple. And until the ACA became law, that was legal. Returning to that status quo is unacceptable.
As for the second aspect of Graham-Cassidy — changes to lifetime coverage limits — there is little that is more cruel or heinous in any piece of legislation in American history. Like with pre-existing conditions, Graham-Cassidy would allow the states to decide whether or not there are lifetime limits on coverage.
In another example, a person needs and receives a life-saving operation. Operations are not cheap. Doctors, nurses, drugs, equipment, and hospital stays can put the cost of some surgeries into seven figures. That’s a million dollars or more, and, if the insurance companies had their way, enough would be enough. Should a person suffer further maladies, they will have exhausted their coverage, leaving only two choices — death or bankruptcy.
One of the reasons the opinions of the American public continue to shift towards supporting universal coverage is because it is clear that when our coverage system is unfettered and lightly regulated, it leads to a lifetime of earnings flowing into the pockets of hospitals and insurers. A person can work for forty years and see everything they have saved winked out of existence owing to a catastrophic illness. No nest egg for the kids, no property to leave behind in a will. The health system we have is capable of carrying out a massive transfer of wealth from the sick — which will, again, eventually be all of us — into the black hole of American healthcare.
If Graham-Cassidy passes, there are only poor outcomes for the general public. Americans will have health coverage yanked out from under them the second they need it, more Americans will die from conditions that could have been treated, and more Americans will go broke. The only way to save money under this bill is to die suddenly and without warning, thereby never being branded with the scarlet letter of sickness. That is what the Republicans in the House and the Senate have been fighting for since the passage of the ACA. In the service of their corporate paymasters, and under the guise of conservative ideology, they are actively trying to make the lives of Americans worse. For that, I hope they suffer at least as much as those they harm.