Democratic Leadership Failed Us on Healthcare

Opposing Donald Trump is a full time job. The Trump administration is a danger to our democratic institutions, his tax plan is a danger to nearly everyone, and his foreign policy is a danger to people who don’t want to live underground eating canned corn for two decades after nuclear war. I get it. I’m always happy to see Elizabeth Warren fired up railing against injustice, but if the Democratic Party thinks that this will win them elections they’re sorely wrong.

This is the first in a series of pieces outlining issues where Democratic leadership’s has failed entirely, given yesterday’s vote let’s start with healthcare. Democrats in the Senate should be pushing for a single-payer health care system. Fighting to save the ACA, a flawed law, is a losing fight. Premiums are becoming unaffordable for many and Republicans can’t realistically keep the law after seven years of promising to repeal. It’s a lose-lose: they don’t have the votes to keep the bill, and they’re not able to say that they’re the party that has ideas for how to help people with their rising healthcare costs. Democrats have a surprising amount of leverage on the issue too, the ACHA (American Health Care Act aka Trumpcare), which passed the House, is insanely unpopular, and Republican lawmakers have been hearing about it at town hall meetings across the country. The road for a more progressive bill would be steep, but in a way it would offer a lifeline to Republican lawmakers who seem to be helplessly stuck, unable to continue on with the ACA but entirely without a good idea of their own.

Single-payer Healthcare:

I’m tremendously grateful for the ACA. Obamacare does a lot of good things, more people are insured, being able to stay on family health plans until 26 allows young people flexibility as they work toward a career, but most importantly the law protects people with pre-existing conditions. Cystic Fibrosis runs in my family and the ACA has been a godsend for people with complicated medical issues like CF, which resonated with me personally from day one. Before the ACA a lot of people could be denied health coverage as a result of pre-existing conditions. It wasn’t just people with rare genetic diseases like CF who could be denied insurance, it extended to cancer survivors, people with HIV/AIDS, those born with congenital heart disease (like Jimmy Kimmel’s son recently which he discusses emotionally here), mental disorders like bipolar disorder, type 1 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s — you could even be denied health coverage for having a high-risk career like a police officer or a firefighter.[i] These are the people that a government should seek to protect. I will always feel that the ACA, despite its flaws, was a success because of this provision.

All that said the law is far from perfect. Most of its supporters would admit that it should be modified to do more to lower costs (though it is not to blame for rising costs, which continue to be consistent with the cost increase trends from before the law was passed). Currently most Democrats seem content to try and protect the law, and as such allow Republicans to own the narrative that they are the party that wants to help people with their rising health insurance premiums. This is a mistake. Democrats should be pushing for a single payer healthcare system. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans supported “replacing the ACA with a federally funded healthcare program providing insurance for all Americans.”[ii] A 2017 Pew Research poll found that 60% of Americans believe that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide health insurance to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage.”[iii] Our more liberal party is to the right of the majority of Americans on one of the most crucial policy issues of the decade.

Senator Sanders has claimed that he will propose a medicare-for-all bill, which would be the simplest version of an American single payer system. With Trump in the White House and the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress it would be challenging for a single payer system to pass. Proposing an alternative to the flaming garbage fire that is Trumpcare/Ryancare/American Health Care Act is still the right move. G.O.P lawmakers have no choice but to move on from the ACA after promising to repeal it for seven years, but they seem hopelessly unprepared to deal with what comes next. Republican lawmakers are acting like a dog that finally caught that squirrel and now have no clue what to do, which is how we have ended up with the AHCA. The bill is almost comically evil and that according to CBO (congressional budget office, a non-partisan entity that evaluates the economic impact of legislation) estimates of the original bill would be an economic disaster.[iv]

Besides with President Trump who knows? His plans on healthcare — like most policies — have been all over the map. At points he had suggested that he would want a single payer system, or at least a plan that “get’s everyone covered,” he even called Australia’s socialized system better than ours in a press conference with Australian PM Malcom Turnbill.[v] Trump could manage to look like a hero at this point if he embraced a single-payer bill from the Senate that covered everyone at a lower cost, and he’s undisciplined enough politically to do it. More than anything else though, Democrats should do it because it is the right thing to do.

Nancy Pelosi, and others who continue to support the ACA are wrong and they are out of touch with democratic voters — 73% of whom say that they support a single payer system according to the same 2016 Gallup Poll. Even with the strides made by the ACA healthcare is becoming unaffordable for many families, and nearly 28 million Americans are still uninsured.[vi] Waiting on Trump’s policies to fail is not only a political gamble; it risks seriously hurting millions of Americans, which Democratic leaders seem to not understand. The most fiery-core-rattling anger that I felt about yesterday’s events came when I read that democrats had the gall to celebrate how the bill passing the house might adversely affect Republicans that voted in favor.[vii] Singing “Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye,” across the aisle after the House voted to take healthcare away from millions because you think that some Republicans will lose re-election bids as a result is why people hate you, and they should. Aside from the insensitivity to the uncertainty that this causes your constituents, how sloppily can you show us that you care more about your re-election than passing legislation that helps us. Democrats need to stop trying to score political points in D.C., and need to start coming up with ideas to help protect the millions who are extremely vulnerable under the Trump Administration.

[i] http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/pre-existing-conditions-and-medical-underwriting-in-the-individual-insurance-market-prior-to-the-aca/

[ii] http://www.gallup.com/poll/191504/majority-support-idea-fed-funded-healthcare-system.aspx

[iii] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/13/more-americans-say-government-should-ensure-health-care-coverage/

[iv] https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52486

[v] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/04/politics/trump-us-australia-health-care/index.html

[vi] http://observer.com/2017/05/nancy-pelosi-rejects-single-payer-health-care/

[vii] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/us/politics/democrats-sing-na-na-hey-hey-good-bye-health-care-bill-vote.html