by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
When I was growing up, one of my favorite TV shows was Star Trek.
Its motto was “Exploring strange new worlds.” I’m a trauma surgeon, so I have seen some really strange and weird things in my life, but I never thought that I would see the House of Representatives vote to take away healthcare from the American people. Yet that’s exactly what I saw last week.
Let me set the stage for you. President Trump, like all the Republicans in Congress, says that he is going to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Not surprisingly, he never took the time to sit down and look at the healthcare problem to figure out how to do it, so he has no clue how to change, or reform, or replace, a $3.2 trillion (that is trillion with a T) industry.
After his first attempt at “reforming” ObamaCare failed miserably, he famously said, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” This may be the most condescending, and certainly the most naïve, statement that has ever been spoken by an American politician. Anyone who has gone to a drugstore to pick up a prescription knows that healthcare is complicated. Everyone who has been in an emergency room knows that healthcare is very complicated.
Trump’s constant refrain is that ObamaCare is “a disaster. It is collapsing. It doesn’t work.” Well, maybe in his world, the world of the billionaire, ObamaCare does not work—but in my world, the world in which I struggle to take care of patients in need every day, ObamaCare is working just fine. Patients who hadn’t had insurance for a quarter of a century now have insurance under ObamaCare. Patients that couldn’t afford dressing supplies can now get them with ObamaCare. Patients who could not afford to even go to the doctor can now go because of ObamaCare.
The reason the heaping pile of garbage passed by the House should not be called TrumpCare is because it has nothing to do with care. It is all about taking away care. Block grants to the states are nothing but a smokescreen. States do not have the money or the personnel to hire the thousands of employees to administer a complex program like this. When was the last time you heard of a southern state expanding its payrolls for a government program?
In this truly bizarre tragedy do you remember what the sticking point was? It was adding $8 billion (over 5 years) to a pool to “cover” patients with pre-existing conditions who would be put into “high-risk pools.” Remember? $8 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it? If someone gives you $8 billion, you would be good with it, right?
But we are talking about a nation of over 325 million people. Last year alone, we spent $324.6 billion on prescription drugs—that’s one thousand dollars per person. Patients with pre-existing conditions are the sickest patients on the planet. These are patients in the ICUs. These are patients on home ventilators. These are coal miners with black lung disease who need lung transplants. These are very sick patients who need expensive care. $8 billion over 5 years comes to $1.6 billion a year. If there are 30 million people in the pool, that’s $53 per year each; if only 3 million—1% of our population—go into the “high-risk pool,” it provides only $533/year for each of the sickest members of society. That’s not even half the cost of drugs for an average person! It’s just like me giving a 10-year-old child a quarter to get a soda at the corner drugstore. It is a sick joke.
Over 24 million Americans will lose healthcare coverage altogether. The elderly are going to have to pay more of their fixed income—their premiums can go up to five times as much as younger folks’. Their out-of-pocket expenses will rise to over $25 billion per year. The whole Trump system of providing low healthcare for some and no healthcare for others will be a huge drag on the economy. Unemployment will rise by 1.8 million Americans according to the Economic Policy Institute.
But these numbers really do not show the unnecessary heartlessness of it all, which is this: the whole purpose of taking healthcare from millions of Americans is to fund a huge tax cut for the wealthy.
After the GOPNeglect (it is neglect) bill passed the House, there were congressman celebrating that Americans were losing their healthcare. Oh, my bad. They were celebrating that they figured out how to give their wealthy fat-cat donors more money. Because, remember: that there is nothing that a rich guy likes more than even more money.
Just a couple of days ago, a Republican congressman who was trying to win the Most Evil Person in the World contest stated, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” Really? Just Google “Patient dies in ER,” and a host of articles pop up of patients who died waiting on healthcare. All the evil villains in Star Trek don’t come close to the evil that is Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho. Those villains were not real. He is.
In Star Trek, there was moral clarity. Captain James T. Kirk always fought on the side of good. There is nothing good about Donald Trump’s and Paul Ryan’s anti-ObamaCare bill: taking away healthcare is simply bad, evil and wrong. There is no other way to look at it.
It is time for us to begin the Resistance movement for real. People are going to die if this legislation gets to Donald Trump’s desk. It is time for us to band together to work for a better tomorrow. We need better healthcare, not less. We need higher wages. We need clear air and clean water. We need renewable power.
The time to resist is now because the engineer from Star Trek, Scotty, cannot beam us out of this mess. We must fix it on our own. Resist.