Lives in the Balance Part III: The Moral Test for our Society

by: Congressman Elijah Cummings Special to the AFRO
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Civilized societies ultimately are judged upon how we treat our citizens when they are most vulnerable, and few in our society are more vulnerable than our neighbors in need of healthcare.

It should not be difficult to understand, therefore, why the American people – at heart, a humane and generous society – are so opposed to Republican efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

On June 7, the highly respected Quinnipac University poll found that American voters clearly understand the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the House Republican’s efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare:  23 million Americans would lose their health insurance coverage.

Elijah Cummings

Public opinion rejected that proposal by 62-17 percent, a fact understood by some of the House Republicans who, nevertheless, voted for the measure in the hope that the Senate’s version of “repeal and replace” would substantially mitigate this blow.

This was not to be.  On June 26, the CBO released its analysis of the Senate Republicans’ plan, finding its impact upon our basic American values to be just as deadly as the House Republicans’ plan:  22 million Americans would be deprived of health insurance by 2026, including 15 million Americans who would lose their Medicaid coverage.

A USA Today – Suffolk University Poll determined that only 12 percent of Americans support the Senate Republicans’ plan.

For some, however, the scope of the human devastation that would be wrought upon our society if either of these measures were to become law might be so overwhelming as to be emotionally numbing.  This is why I asked our Democratic staff on the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform to perform an analysis that everyone, including my Republican colleagues, could understand.

On June 27, our staff experts completed their work, and we released state-specific projections of the human cost that the Republican proposals would have upon children with severe disabilities and special health care needs – helpless and deserving children who need our help to survive and thrive.

Here in our home State of Maryland, approximately 200,000 children have special health care needs such as cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, and autism. Although these children come from all backgrounds, families with the lowest household incomes have the highest incidence of children with these challenges.

It should not surprise any of us that more than one out of every six Maryland families who have children with special health care needs face extreme financial difficulties. One out of every three of these children in Maryland relies wholly or partially on public insurance programs such as Medicaid.

The costs are significant – requiring a significant federal role.  Because children with special health care needs often require intensive long-term care and support services, on average they are about 12 times more costly to state Medicaid programs than children without such needs.

As a result, on average, Maryland spends nearly $21,000 annually on each child who qualifies for Medicaid based solely upon a disability.

This is just one of the reasons why Republican efforts to slash and fundamentally restructure Medicaid funding would fail every test of humanity that we hold dear.  These assaults on our morality as a people would be especially harmful for the children of our community – despite the reality that these children have done absolutely nothing to warrant such treatment.

Yet, that is precisely the damage that these Republican “repeal and replace” proposals would inflict upon these most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Consider this.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined that the Republican House bill would slash Medicaid funding by $834 billion over ten years and leave 14 million fewer Americans with health insurance through Medicaid.  The Republican Senate bill would harm Medicaid even more profoundly than the House-passed bill by further restricting the growth rate for future federal funding.

The Senate bill would disguise these larger cuts by delaying their implementation until later years, but the CBO also determined that the Senate bill would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured by 2026, including 15 million Americans who would lose their Medicaid coverage.

These are the human – and humane – reasons that the American people are rebelling against Republican measures to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, reverse its Medicaid expansion, and drastically limit future Medicaid funding.

Children and adults with disabilities, children in poverty, elderly Americans in nursing care, and the “working poor” are among the Americans whom our federal tax dollars have been helping through the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this month, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion is supported by 84 percent of the public, including 71 percent of Republicans.  The American people understand what my Republican colleagues apparently do not.

Our choice as a society is clear.  Either we work toward the best and most cost-effective ways to care for those who are in need – or we become a society that allows her people to suffer and die.

This, in a nutshell, is the test that we, as a people, are facing in the national debate over healthcare funding.

Lives are in the balance in this struggle – and some of the lives at stake are our own.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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