Lives in the Balance Part II

Winning the Healthcare Battle in the Senate

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Between now and July 4, thousands upon thousands of American lives will hang in the balance as Senate Republicans conspire in secrecy to gut the Affordable Care Act.  Yet, as of this writing, no Democratic Senators – and very few Republicans – know what is in the Republican plan.

Nevertheless, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has directed that the Republicans’ version of repealing “Obamacare” will bypass the normal committee process in which the public can become informed, public reaction assessed, and corrective amendments considered.

Elijah Cummings

Instead, as soon as the Congressional Budget Office evaluates the Republican proposal, Majority Leader McConnell intends to proceed directly to an up or down vote.

After years of Republican railing against one of President Obama’s signature accomplishments, the moment of truth on healthcare is at hand.

There has been massive public reaction against the House Republicans party-line proposal to repeal “Obamacare,” a repeal that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cause 23 million Americans to lose their health insurance coverage.

The highly respected Quinnipac University poll revealed on June 8 that American voters overwhelmingly reject the House Republicans’ measure (by 62-17 percent).  This, I suspect, is why the Senate Republicans are attempting to rush their companion repeal measure toward a narrow, party-line vote in secret.

The American People have every reason to organize, protest, and let Republican Senators know that access to affordable healthcare is a human right that elected officials deny at their political peril.

Through a widespread public outcry directed toward more moderate Republican Senators, we still have the opportunity to avoid disaster – and move forward toward a more rational and humane system of delivering healthcare comparable to the care available in every other advanced nation.

A brief historical note provides the foundation for this argument.

In our continuing struggle to expand access to affordable healthcare to every American, it is critical to remember the two major forces that catalyzed the reform process more than a decade ago.

First, even before President Obama and congressional Democrats began the process that resulted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (more widely known as “Obamacare”), the Institute of Medicine had informed us that more than 18,000 Americans were dying prematurely every year because they lacked health insurance.  That annual death toll was and remains an unacceptable human cost.

A second, significant motivation for reform was the accelerating rise in healthcare costs that threatened the budgets of governments, businesses and individual households alike.  The private, largely for-profit insurance system in this country was failing to fully address these challenges a decade ago – and it continues to fail these tests today.

The American People must ask their elected representatives this question:  Why should we continue to provide massive public subsidies to a failed system of healthcare financing when it would be more cost-effective and rational to fund healthcare in the same manner that we already fund care for our elderly, disabled, veterans, and poor?

The answer to this question is why some of us believed a decade ago (and continue to believe today) that a single-payer system based upon expanding Medicare to everyone would be the most effective strategy.

Our current proposal to achieve that goal, The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676), is sponsored by Rep. John Conyers and co-sponsored by 112 of us in the House.

However, establishing access to affordable healthcare as a civil right through the Affordable Care Act was the progress that we could politically achieve back in 2010 – and the ACA remains our first line of defense today.

I remain convinced that we can win this battle.  To prevail, however, our nation must directly confront the reality that human lives – the lives of people you and I know personally – are at risk.

A significant proportion of Obamacare’s expansion of healthcare access has occurred through liberalizing access to Medicaid for the working poor.  These are the neighbors who would be most immediately affected by the Republican repeal effort (although almost every family would eventually feel the impact in their insurance premiums).

The federal government is currently paying 95 percent of expanded access to Medicaid.  Limiting that federal commitment is a central prong of the Republicans’ attack – both through cutting back on its contribution for Medicaid expansion and through “block granting” Medicaid generally.

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.  This is why the core of the internal Republican debate in the Senate appears to be how rapidly and deeply they can gut the federal contributions to Medicaid and survive politically.

The American People understand that lives are in the balance in this healthcare debate.  We must continue to make our voices heard.

With a massive public outcry against healthcare repeal, we can win this fight and save lives.

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