The grandest and most majestic first act of 2016 by the Republican majority in Congress was to take a meat clever and sever 17 million Americans from their Affordable Care Act health insurance.
No chemo for you, cancer patients, the GOP declared. No plaster or slings for you, bone fracture victims, they sneered.
Precious few of the 17 million Americans whose health the GOP imperiled with this hard-hearted deed heard any panicked news about it, however. This made Republicans very, very sad because last week’s measure was the first in their 50 attempts to gut the Affordable Care Act to actually pass both the U.S. House and Senate. All of their other failed attempts had died in Congress. But this one, this one special bill, died Friday at the tip of President Obama’s veto pen. Still, it’s just as dead as the others. The bad, old insurance days won’t return.
In those bad, old, pre-Affordable Care Act days, health insurance was not working. Remember insurance companies throwing people off their plans when they got sick? Recall insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and acne? There was that Medicare prescription plan donut hole that cost senior citizens thousands of dollars every year. And more and more employers were ditching health coverage for workers.
Americans wanted it all fixed. The Affordable Care Act took a giant leap toward accomplishing that. Okay, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t cover everyone. But 17.6 million more Americans got insurance because of it. Young adults to age 26 can stay on their parents’ plans. The cost of drugs for seniors stuck in the donut hole declined, and the coverage gap disappears altogether in 2020. Insurance companies can’t dump the sick or deny them coverage.
It’s a different world. It’s one where tens of millions of Americans feel safer and more secure. They’ve got health insurance now. Or they know that if they lose their job, and along with it their employment-based insurance, they’ll be able now to buy coverage.
This world, though, makes Republicans squirm. They hate it when the government of the people, by the people does more for the people. To them, it’s bad enough that the people have gotten together and decided government should provide public schools for all children. Republicans believe private schools exclusively for those who can afford them would be just fine. Republicans believe those private security forces hired to guard gated communities could supplant public police departments, and places that couldn’t afford private forces would get no protection. They’d be happy with toll roads owned and operated by private corporations instead of freeways built by tax dollars.
Similarly, they’ve repeatedly proposed privatizing Medicare, the highly efficient, extremely popular, government-operated health insurance for the elderly. They opposed the national health insurance plan FDR proposed in 1939. And in the decades since then, they’ve killed every attempt by Democratic administrations, including President Bill Clinton’s, to provide some sort of national health plan. Many influential Republican leaders condemned Medicare, the national health plan serving only the elderly, when it passed in 1965. Those opponents included Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush.
Republicans don’t care that Americans love Medicare and desperately want the reassurance of access to health insurance during the decades before they turn 65. Republicans don’t care that citizens of every other major first-world nation provide this benefit to each other. Germany started doing it in 1883.
Republicans don’t believe citizens should provide services to each other through their government. And the GOP’s sworn mission is to destroy as many as they can.
In addition to cancelling insurance for 17 million Americans, the doomed Republican measure would have eliminated all federal funding – $450 million – for Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, the places that millions of poor women rely on for basic reproductive needs including annual exams and family planning. No federal funding pays for abortions.
The GOP contended that it made up for that loss by providing $235 million for community health centers. That’s just about half of the Planned Parenthood funding. So apparently the GOP thought it was just fine to deny care to half of the women Planned Parenthood serves.
Republicans made no plans to deal with the loss of the Affordable Care Act, however. They’re claiming that they’d replace the act someday over the rainbow when they re-elect GOP majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate as well as elect a GOP President, after which they would actually be able to repeal the law.
There’s not any sort of replacement proposal now, however. None. GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan admits it. He claims Republicans will start talking about that soon. “Just wait,” he instructed when asked about plans.
Republicans have been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act for five years. But they’ve made absolutely no effort to patch the massive gaping hole that would leave behind. They don’t want to.
They don’t believe in communities coming together to care for their members, whether that’s by providing public transit or access to health insurance.
They believe that Americans who get cancer in the richest country in the world and don’t have health insurance are on their own.