Yesterday’s crushing defeat of the so-called “American Health Care Act” or AHCA, signals the end of the seven-year long attempt by the Republican Party to legislatively kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Yet, as was pointed out on one cable news network last night, it won’t stop the health insurance industry from getting the Republicans in Congress to kill parts of the law slowly by eliminating the taxes that go to pay for the coverage.
Call it “genocide by stealth”, since millions of Americans will die, as per the Congressional Budget Office (CBO’s) scoring of AHCA. If they can’t kill the law outright, the so-called “Freedom Caucus”, actually the Congressional version of the Tea Party, will kill it slowly.
Why do you think they keep saying it is a disaster and it is crumbling? It’s because they are dead set against anyone getting health care unless someone else can make a profit from selling a policy.
Then there is the other question, the one usually raised by liberals and progressives, especially those who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders last year in the primaries, as to why we are the only Western country without universal coverage.
The answer is complex, but not complicated (“who knew health care was so complicated?). First, everything the government of the US has ever implemented for the benefit of people has had to pass muster with the Constitution. It either has to be covered by the Constitution directly, or implied through the taxing mechanism.
Second, the Founding Fathers never mentioned or promoted the right to health care, as the prevailing political and social philosophy of the day was concerned with freedom, liberty, and private property. It has been unclear what, if anything, was meant by the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, let alone, the phrase, “promote the general welfare.”
Why they never mentioned health care and why other nations have it, is due to the fact that the US was founded during the first half of the period historians call, “the Enlightenment”, when the right to private property, liberty, and freedom were the topics of discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. Basically, the difference between Classical Liberalism (Conservatism) and Modern Liberalism (Liberalism) is between negative rights (the right not to be killed) versus positive rights (the right to a job, education, housing, health care, etc.)
Canada gained its limited independence from Britain nearly a hundred years after we did, and therefore was influenced by the philosophy of the second half of the Enlightenment, which stressed involvement by government in the economy.
The only time the Founders cared about providing some kind of health care plan was directed towards a particular group of citizens in the late eighteenth century, as I wrote about in this post.
What is now called the Public Health Service began as a government-sponsored, health plan for merchant sailors on ships entering and leaving US ports and on inland waterways. It was never challenged in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, nor was it ever attacked by members of the opposition party. In fact, it was supported by both Federalists and Anti-Federalist politicians of the day.
The third reason why we don’t have universal, single-payer is because the government allowed employers to provide coverage during WWII to attract women into the workplace when the men went overseas. The UK is often cited as an example for single-payer, but what most supporters of this type of plan do not realize is that because of the devastation the UK suffered at the hands of German bombs, their health care system needed to be re-built from scratch, so the government stepped in with the NHS. Even Churchill supported it.
Fourth, we have always provided health care to certain at risk groups like the poor (Medicaid), the elderly (Medicare), and to children (CHIP), as well as to former service persons and their families (Tricare), etc. Perhaps the way to begin to get universal coverage is to merge all of these programs into one, then expand it to cover everyone else.
But for the time being, a major disaster was averted, but we should not think this is the end of the debate, nor is there victory. The battle lines are drawn, and the enemy is not surrendering. This is not a time for congratulation, but for vigilance and resolve.