“Repeal and replace” has become the battle cry of Sarah Palin and the bulk of Republican Senators after the passage of comprehensive health care reform. They’re rousing fears, threatening those with health insurance that their costs and taxes will go up. As if everyone would keep their insurance at the same costs if there were no reform.
Think again. Health care costs went up 131 percent over the last decade; general inflation was only 28 percent. If they stay on the same trajectory, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, they’ll go up another 166 percent over the next 10 years. As the costs go up, working families lucky enough to have insurance pay higher co-pays and get less coverage.
And, not surprisingly, the number of Americans without health insurance is growing at an unprecedented pace – as insurance company monopolies combine with the Great Recession to leave more and more Americans uninsured.
In 2007, the Census Bureau reported that 46 million Americans went without health insurance. A study by the North Carolina Institute for Medicine shows that in January 2009, 52 million were uninsured. That’s a 13 percent jump in two years – and would be far worse today as the recession hit its bottom in 2009.
What’s staggering is how little political leaders seem to care. In Palin’s Alaska, 20 percent of the population went uninsured in 2009. Since seniors have Medicare, the single payer system that conservatives rely on but hate, that means over one in four working people goes without health insurance. Health reform would insure those folks – unless Palin’s tea party succeeds in repealing it.
Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted against the reconciliation. But like Alaska, Arizona has 20 percent of its population uninsured, an increase in 6 percent over 2007 and 2008 alone. Texas Senator John Cronyn, head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, led the assault on reform, accusing Democrats of creating a “health care gulag.” In Texas, over 6 million residents are uninsured, a staggering 28 percent of the entire population, up 10 percent over 2007-2009.
Marco Rubio, the conservative darling running for the Senate in Florida, signed the Republican petition calling for repeal of health care reform. In Florida, nearly 4 million people go without insurance, fully 25 percent of the population, up over 500,000 since 2007. Given that its elderly residents are covered by Medicare and its poor by Medicaid, that makes it likely that most of the working people Rubio addresses are unlikely to have health insurance.
Health insurance reform was passed in the face of unified Republican obstruction and entrenched insurance company and drug company opposition. The industry spent literally millions lobbying against passage, and working to weaken the bill in every conceivable way. The result is a bill that is weaker than it should be. There is no public option – a plan like Medicare that could compete with the private insurance companies and keep them honest. The obscene prohibition on Medicare from negotiating bulk prices for prescription drugs remains in place. That’s right, in a provision that costs literally hundreds of billions and helps make U.S. prescription drug prices the highest in the world, the Republican Congress under Tom DeLay passed a provision that prohibits Medicare from negotiating bulk price discounts. And the drug lobby succeeded in keeping that provision in place in the current reform.
Palin, the Republican repealers and the Tea Party folks got this wrong. Our current system is broken. Costs are soaring; staggering numbers are added to the uninsured. We spend 50 percent more per person than other industrial nations and cover a far smaller percentage of our population. The wealthy can afford great care, but the country as a whole has lower life expectancy and worse indices on health generally than other industrial nations.
Many of the Tea Party people are angry at a government that serves Wall Street and not Main Street, big banks not small business. They are sensibly irate at the backroom deals that went into health care. But the answer isn’t repealing the bill; the answer is to expose the money and the lobbies that stand in the way, and to improve the bill by setting up a public option, by ending the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies, by ending the goofy ban on Medicare saving money on prescription drugs.
The crisis of working families is real, not invented. Wages are stagnant. Jobs are scarce. Rising health care costs are burdening businesses and families. College costs are soaring. Those that are calling for repealing a reform that will provide affordable insurance for millions of Americans should take a look around. The elderly and the poor are covered by Medicare and Medicaid. This is a reform for working families and small businesses. They should be respected, not repealed.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.