Nothing healthy about secret health care talks


The American Health Care Act is being hashed out behind closed doors. The House recently passed a version of it that has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. It is now in the Senate Budget Committee, which is apparently being advised by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor  and Pensions.
We do know that Senator Manchin openly opposes the AHCA as it came from the House. We also know that it would negatively affect millions of people across the country, throwing them off coverage they have come to rely on. Some of these folks are Medicaid recipients.
Most people can name at least one person who would be hurt by the loss of their Medicaid benefits. Almost half a million people in West Virginia need this program, and half of those are children. Medicaid is vital for West Virginia children, seniors, disabled persons and those of low income. Many nursing home residents would be affected as well, and that means their families would also suffer.
The House bill would kick 25 million people off their insurance, and 155 million would lose their essential benefits. What would be the motivation to do something like this? Spite? That is not the leadership we want, and hats off to the House Democrats for sticking together and voting NO on that horrible bill.
The House bill would also allow insurance companies to raise prices for those with pre-existing conditions and not guarantee that treatments are covered. For someone in my position, (I have stage IV metastatic breast cancer) who is only alive now because of expensive medication, this means certain death.
But you don’t have to be a cancer patient to want, need and deserve good, comprehensive health care. One could even argue that it’s a basic human right.
The bill is also bad for our economy. According to a piece in the Atlantic, “A new report from the Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University researchers finds that the AHCA would slash total jobs by about a million, total state gross domestic products by $93 billion, and total business output by $148 billion by 2026.
Most of those jobs would be shed from the health care industry, which would contract severely over that frame. Most of the losses in economic activity would come in states [like WV] that have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act.”
West Virginia and Kentucky together would lose about 16,000 jobs in health care, including some of the small clinics that care for rural populations. We needed jobs and the ACA gave us that. Now we just want to take it away?
Don’t we want to keep our best and brightest? How can we expect our young people to stay  if the possibility of good, sustainable jobs in health care disappears?
I called Senator Capito’s office yesterday and spoke with a very nice young intern, who told me that Senator Capito is very concerned about the House bill, and is especially concerned about its effects on the great number of Medicaid recipients in West Virginia. Though I was glad to hear this, I have yet to find out why these lawmakers want to repeal of the ACA to begin with.
Looking at Representative Mooney’s website, he notes a few “damaging” regulations in the ACA. His website states his position on this law: “Obamacare is collapsing as insurance companies abandon the health care exchanges and insurance premiums continue to rise, hurting those who can least afford it.  The American Health Care Act will repeal Obamacare once-and-for-all and replace it with free-market solutions that will increase access to care and lower costs for all West Virginians.”
I’m not sure what he means by “collapsing,” but giving insurance companies even more control over the health care marketplace is not going to reduce costs or improve care. That goes against the bottom line.
In West Virginia, there is only one provider, Blue Cross-Blue Shield/Highmark. That happens to be called a monopoly. We do need competition, but repealing the ACA will not accomplish that.
I remember the struggle to get the ACA passed and the numerous attempts at repeal from the beginning. One of the problems the Republicans cited was the lack of free-market competition of the program. But we had the opportunity to add that. It was called the “public option.”
Obama pressed for the public option precisely because it would create competition in the health care marketplace, but our senators sided with the insurance lobby who promised they would play nice. Now, some of those same folks who wouldn’t budge on the public option are squawking about the lack of “free market competition.” Imagine that.
There were public and senate hearings on the ACA, with expert testimony, and public debate continued for a long time. This new bill, a direct repeal effort, is being spearheaded by Republicans and worked over behind closed doors. Called “reconciliation,” the procedural process would avoid a filibuster by limiting debate to 20 hours.
But under general rules, legislation permits unlimited debate and amendments. Senate Republicans could thus give the public only one day to unpack their health care bill. That runs against the principles of our democracy.
The public is supposed to know about and participate in decisions that affect us. To be thoughtful about it, we need enough time to consider it. Time is something seldom spent on legislation anymore, it seems.
Looking at the press on the bill passed out of the House, I notice that not one Democrat voted for it, but most (217) Republicans voted for it. This was obviously a partisan vote, meaning it is decidedly one-sided and meant to benefit a few at the expense of many others.
Senator John McCain, a Republican himself, has expressed discomfort with the closed-door process. With no hearings or public debate, the process seems to have become very un-democratic indeed.
The ACA isn’t perfect. It was never intended to be. It was meant to be a start on something new and different, something that has been working quite well in other places like Europe for some time now.
If our lawmakers would play nicely together, maybe we could get them to stop trying to throw out the baby (meaning millions of people) with the bathwater, make the needed changes, and get it settled in a fair way.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said that not providing health care to those who need it most, to the most vulnerable in society, is “egregious and inhumane.”
West Virginia is used to getting the “dregs;” we know what it’s like to be ignored and maltreated. But that should never be the status quo. It is time that all changed. We deserve good health care, and we won’t stop until we get it.
The Senate bill is still in committee with no telling when it will emerge. Senator Capito has been dubbed the “most important” vote on this issue. When it comes out, it will be available for public view and comment. So here is another chance to do our civic duty and tell our representatives how to Represent Us.
And if you haven’t yet spoken to your representative in the House, please give them a call today and ask them what on earth they were thinking.
We would all do well to take a few minutes to let the Senate Budget Committee members know how losing good health care would affect us, and encourage them to keep the ACA – before the vote.  To reach Senator Shelley Moore Capito (more likely an aide) at her D.C. office, call 202-224-6472. You can also take a short video about how losing health care would affect you and send it to your local Indivisible chapter leader or Facebook page.

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