Donald Trump, who was elected president largely based on his ability to portray himself as an “average” working-class American, continues with his every utterance to reveal just how completely out of touch with working-class concerns he truly is.
Last month for instance, Trump, in addressing the myriad complexities in following through on his pledge to repeal Obamacare, groaned to reporters, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
Actually, I would wager most working-class Americans who have struggled with lousy, overpriced health insurance that does not actually cover anything, outrageous premiums and co-pays, unreadable, jargon-laden insurance disclaimers, and the criminal dilemma of having to choose between paying for prescription medication, or rent from month to month, are painfully familiar with how unfathomably complicated–and inhumane–the U.S. for-profit health care system is.
Trump–a wealthy elite who has never had to worry about paying for a hospital visit in his life–is only now realizing this. Must be nice.
As bad as Obamacare is, the Republican Congress’ “plan” will be even worse. (I put “plan” in quotation marks because the GOP proposal is not an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, at all. It is merely a retooling of it.)
In the absence of the ACA’s most integral feature, the individual mandate, health care costs will no longer be defrayed by the large pool of insurance purchasers. This leaves health care corporations like UnitedHealth Group (2014 net sales: $130.5 billion), Anthem ($74 billion), and Aetna ($58 billion) free to rack up coverage costs. The Republicans’ retooled plan also grants massive tax cuts to the wealthy, while increasing costs on the poor and elderly.
In other words, the Republicans’ actual health care plan is basically the same as former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D-FL) sardonic characterization of it during a biting Sept. 29, 2009 House floor speech.
“It’s a very simple plan,” Grayson said of the then-minority Republicans’ opposition to the ACA. “… Don’t get sick … And if you do get sick, here’s what the Republicans want you to do … Die quickly!”
To paraphrase Arnaud Amalric’s famous saying, “Privatize it all and let The Market sort ‘em out.”
As if to add insult to injury, congressional Republicans are now resorting to their standard Ayn Randian, blame-the-victim logic in defense of claims that health insurance will become more expensive under “Trumpcare.”
Rep. Justin Chaffetz (R-UT), in a March 8 interview on CNN, suggested people need to “invest in their own health care,” rather than “getting that new iPhone.” Chaffetz went on to insist that Americans “have choices,” under capitalism, and they “have to make a choice” about how to spend their money.
But this advice is cynically disingenuous at best–cruelly dishonest, at worst. The only “choice” capitalism offers workers–who by definition, do not own the means of production–is to either sell their labor-power to an exploitative employer in order to survive, or to starve to death. That is not a choice, at all. It’s extortion.
As Stephen Pimpare points out in a rebuttal to Chaffetz in the Washington Post, “most American adults who are poor are not poor from lack of effort, but despite it.”
Limited as the ACA is, it has granted health insurance to some 20 million Americans who were previously unable to afford it. And aspects of the law such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ plan until the age of 26, and prohibiting insurance companies from denying claims based on so-called “pre-existing conditions,” are admittedly steps in the right direction. Certainly, the revocation of these benefits is nothing for leftist critics of Obamacare to celebrate.
But we must be clear about the ACA’s formidable shortcomings.
The ACA is built on a conservative idea developed by the Heritage Foundation. It is essentially a bailout for the for-profit health insurance industry—one which it did not even need.
President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress never gave serious consideration to the alternative proposal for a government-run “public option” that would have competed with the corporate insurance providers. And the public option plan was already a watered-down Plan B from instituting a single-payer, universal health care system, which citizens in nearly every other industrial democracy throughout the world enjoy.
Indeed, the U.S. ranks 50 out of 55 countries according to a 2014 Bloomberg survey that calculates “life expectancy, health-care spending per capita and relative spending as a share of gross domestic product.” The survey found the United States’ for-profit health care system among the “least efficient in the world.”
Single-payer was “off the table,” from the start of the health care debate. In fact, when single-payer activists interrupted an early White House health care public hearing, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus (MT) promptly called security and had them arrested. Baucus and his colleagues glibly laughed as the protesters were, one by one, escorted out of the room.
And the Democratic Party has only become more forthright in its opposition to universal health care.
Last year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuked Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer campaign platform—specifically, his intent to raise taxes in order to fund the program. “We’re not running on any platform of raising taxes,” Pelosi said during a Jan. 27, 2016 press conference.
Regarding single-payer, Pelosi added, “It’s no use having a conversation about something that is not going to happen.”
Earlier this year, Pelosi conceded during a CNN town hall-style Q&A that the Democratic Party is “capitalist, and that’s just the way it is.”
I must say, Pelosi’s newfound candidness, though infuriating to many liberals, is rather refreshing. Now that workers know exactly where the Democrats stand in the class war, perhaps we can finally abandon the party for good, and start our own.
Despite the Democrats’ opposition, transitioning to single-payer would go a long way to simplifying our complicated, pay-or-die health care system. Indeed, the U.S. currently wastes $375 billion a year on health insurance paperwork, alone—roughly 15 percent of overall national health care spending. Kinda gives a new meaning to the phrase, “Death by a thousand paper-cuts,” doesn’t it?
“Many people with curable ailments have died for lack of care,” writes veteran investigative reporter, Dave Lindorff, in his submission to the 2014 essay-collection, Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA. “That’s what happened to a teenage boy brought to a hospital by police in Chicago. He died on the sidewalk as the cops stood by helplessly: the hospital wouldn’t admit him because he had no insurance.”
Lindorff goes on to observe that the United States is “the only modern industrial nation in the world that does this to its people.”
But as long as we live under capitalism–a system that treats everything, including human lives and the environment, as a commodity–this unconscionable attitude toward the poor and uninsured will continue. The basic necessities of life–health care, housing, and food–will remain out of reach for working-class people. A more efficient and humane way of organizing our economy would treat these human needs as universal rights–not commodities no different than toothpaste.
Abortion, likewise, is a form of health care and should be recognized as such. Women should have access to free abortion on demand and without apology. Indeed, I have long found it curious that the right-wing, “pro-life” zealots who espouse the “sanctity of life,” are completely absent from the fight for universal health care–and, for that matter, the anti-war movement.
(“Trumpcare” will, of course, strip all federal funding from Planned Parenthood.)
“In a socialist society,” Lindorff writes, “a parent with a sick baby could go straight to the doctor, or in an emergency, to the hospital. The baby wouldn’t be at risk of suffering through something potentially life-threatening, and the parents wouldn’t have to face the financial anxiety of deciding to see a doctor–or suffer the guilt of not seeing one.”
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