I saw this headline the other day, "GOP Recommends Americans Set Aside Income From One Of Their Jobs To Pay For Healthcare Under New Bill". It took me by surprise and upon closer inspection I figured out that it was from the Onion. They're good at pulling off an unreal headline while still making it seem plausible. As some of you may know, The Onion is the consummate satire site for news, just like The Daily Show was with Jon Stewart.
But with every joke, with every bit of humor, there is some truth in it. The broad consensus is that under the new plan from the GOP, health care costs are going to go up and by 2026 upwards of 24 million people will no longer be able to afford their health insurance. This isn't the plan that Donald Trump as candidate promised, for he said we would get as he had promised insurance for everyone. Analysis of the GOP plan offered so far, indicates that there will be insurance for everyone, but it won't offer the protection most people need.
There are now three health care plans in contention: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), The American Health Care Act (the new GOP bill to replace Obamacare) and The National Improved Medicare for All (HR 676), introduced by Democrats and backed by the Green Party. We know that Obamacare was a compromise bill. The Democrats, even with a majority in both houses still had to compromise on their bill to get enough votes to pass. The GOP's bill is a straight up tax cut for the top 2%, true to form, it is a play for big money in politics. HR 676 is the populist prize that many people have been looking for, particularly for the bottom half of the economy.
Here is where the GOP hypocrisy comes in. Even the Wall Street Journal has taking notice that older, poor people in rural parts of the country could wind up paying more than they earn for a year, just to keep and maintain insurance. The GOP base is going to hurt under their proposed plan and word is just getting around about that fact. But Republicans in Congress seem defiant that those very same people will see reduced costs under their plan. They claim it will inspire competition in the health care markets, but seriously, has the GOP ever seen a private monopoly they didn't like?
The GOP loves to talk about free markets, yet they are loathe to admit that they have also been the champion of The Conservative Nanny State, a place where income is distributed upwards as a result of public policy they invented. "The Conservative Nanny State" is a term coined by economist Dean Baker, who wrote a book by the same name. When the GOP talks about the free market, Baker is quick to point out how the GOP has been writing public policy to benefit the top 1%. The American Health Care Act confirms the bias identified by Baker.
Forbes also confirms the motivations of the GOP here:
Today, the Congressional Budget Office answered those questions, releasing its official scoring of the American Health Care Act, and the results are not pretty. An $883 billion tax cut, $274 billion of it going to the richest 2%. $880 billion stripped from Medicaid. And 24 million fewer insured individuals over the next ten years.
Again we see the GOP working hard to distribute national income upwards. There are a few problems with this line of thinking within the GOP. They are operating entirely along ideological lines without considering the logic required to be ignored to get there. When I talk to conservatives, most of what I hear about taxation is this, "It's my money, I earned it so I should be able to keep it, right?"
What they leave out is how they earned it. The wealthiest Americans run businesses. The largest businesses in America also happen to be the biggest polluters. One look at the oil, coal or gas industries provides ample evidence of this fact. Most of us think of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when we think of oil spills. There is a Wikipedia page with a long and complete list of oil spills worldwide. They even have a list of spills happening right now, and that is just the oil industry.
In addition, America's largest businesses - and billionaires - have been working diligently to externalize the cost of health care despite the burdens imposed by business itself. Never mind that fracking, mining, and drilling all impose burdens on the environment that eventually come back to haunt us. Never mind that some of the biggest polluters on the planet are the very ships that carry the goods across the ocean for us to consume. Never you mind that there is a giant plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean about the size of Texas that will take decades if not centuries to clean up.
Lately, I've been watching the television series, House, MD. It was canceled in 2012 after an 8 year run. It is one of the funniest shows I've ever seen, and any show that makes me laugh out loud will get my undivided attention. The humor in the show is full of little tidbits of truth. But the one truth that few have acknowledged in that show is that people get sick without realizing how they get sick. No one makes a conscious choice to get sick, but when they find themselves in the hospital, it's usually from some environmental influence, or an unwitting act by the patient himself. Patients under the care of Dr. House wind through numerous theories to arrive at the root cause of their ailment. House, MD makes a great argument for universal health care.
And that's just one show in popular culture. House reminds me of the granddaddy of all medical mystery shows, Quincy. Featuring Jack Klugman (well known for his role as Oscar in The Odd Couple), Quincy is a far more polite doctor, but his patients are already dead. And they too, usually arrive at their fate through twists and turns.
Anywhere you care to look, whether in pop culture or in the news, we see people getting sick not because they want, and almost certainly through circumstances beyond their control. People get sick usually because the environment makes them sick. It's part of the deal with modern civilization. The difference with America and every other industrialized country is that the people in power are not willing to share the costs with the people they claim to serve, and manage to escape those costs.
There is so much dissatisfaction with the debate in Congress over health care, that a petition has emerged to strip Congress of their government funded health care plans. Here's the nugget of that petition:
Like millions of people who are panicking about possible changes to their health insurance, I’m concerned the people elected to represent us won’t have to live with the consequences or expenses that the rest of us may have to face soon. I want lawmakers to commit to treating themselves just like those who will be impacted by ACA repeal or replacement.
This is probably the most important observation about Congress. Somebody has noticed that some members of Congress are trying very hard to separate their fate from the people they claim to represent. This is an impossible goal to be sure, but it's interesting that they would even try. So the petition seeks to remind Congress that all power resides in the people, and yes, their fate is tied to ours, no matter how hard they try.
Free market ideology claims that we are all rational free agents in a bag of skin. The collapse of the last housing bubble disproves that claim. We are anything but rational, especially when we try to go it alone. The GOP's plan is especially keen to divide us and convince us that we can make it on our own. We can succeed without or even despite the influence that others might have on us.
But the GOP's plan to separate their fate from the people they claim to represent is going to run into a very difficult scientific principle to overcome: the observer effect. In the same way that it's impossible to observe an experiment without influencing the outcome, it is also impossible to separate your fate from everyone else, which is what Republicans in Congress (and a few Democrats) seem to want to do. And this isn't just Congress. It's the millionaire and billionaires who support their campaigns. They too, are seeking to distance themselves from the great unwashed masses that do the work and buy their products.
This is the point of universal health care. We got to this place because everyone is being asked to act as if they are not connected to everyone else, to act as if each person can act independently of another. The high costs of health care and insurance for the same is the cost of resisting the reality that we are all connected. Our fate is not just personal, it's collective. Under the private insurance plans promoted by the GOP, we are divided for maximum profits, while the executives who sell those plans pretend that the costs imposed upon others are not imposed on themselves, too.
When we choose to admit the reality that our fate is collective and individual, we choose to stop resisting and start helping, to share the costs of our mutual care. Universal health care addresses this reality by spreading the costs and the risks throughout the population, regardless of race, creed, gender or wealth. We are all Americans and as a country, our fate is collective. The denial of that fact, is the GOP plan.