On last Thursday afternoon June 22nd the Senate unveiled their draft of the ACHA the American Health Act, which they are calling the “Better Care Reconciliation Act". House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put it well: This is a “…tax bill disguised as a health care bill.” As readers begin thinking about it, they should consider that it does one main thing: it shifts the cost of health care away from the Federal Government.
Most doctors understand that decent health is fundamental to all human happiness and prosperity. Indeed someone once said health is our only real wealth. Additionally, many social scientists and other bean counters have discovered that standards of living go up when the quality of a population's health rises. It has been conclusively demonstrated that particularly when the quality of the health and status of women rise, the entire society benefits, in both social and monetary terms. When there is good access to maternal and child health care, infant and childhood mortality decrease, maternal health increases, and family size shrinks. Earnings, savings, and educational status rise. These are well documented phenomena.
So called Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act (ACA), made the health of women and children a priority. For example, the ACA included mandated insurance coverage of maternity care. Yes, this meant that the cost of giving maternity care to some was shouldered by all, since everyone contributed to a “pot” that paid out for maternity care expenses. Implied is the notion that society as a whole has a vested interest in the welfare of pregnant women and the children that they bear. The idea is that it is our collective responsibility to ensure the well being and betterment of the next generation.
Indeed the whole notion of insurance used to be that people could rest easy knowing that they had a way to deal with life’s unexpected or costly events. They could contribute to a pool for emergencies and other medical needs, and it would be there for them when the need arose. This was by mutual agreement between all the contributors and governed by certain pre-agree upon stipulations. Everyone knew that more people meant better benefits and more stability of the fund.
Health insurance was viewed as a social and financial responsibility. Nonetheless, if you did not have heath insurance, you would still get emergency care, since the moral values of society and the medical profession would kick in. At the same time, people who could get health insurance but didn’t were viewed as irresponsible since they would simply take their chances or let others foot the bill if they did land up in the hospital.
People in the US disagree about what constitutes the responsibility of government. They disagree about the role of government in health care. However, progressive and prosperous countries across the globe have examined the question from a data- based rather than political point of view. They have determined that the social and financial benefits of universal health care coverage are well worth the price. In developed countries, the government sees to the national security, and it sees to our infrastructure. These are examples of enormous and costly tasks that no one person, family, or even state could accomplish. But, a nation can. Health care is like that. A healthy prosperous nation requires massive collective input, both from a planning standpoint, and a financial standpoint. I can think of no better use for the collective monies obtained through our taxes. In this light we consider the new health bill draft.
The new health plan draft basically proposes massive cuts in what the Fed spends on health care. Not only does the Fed currently spend on Medicaid and Medicare, under Obamacare it spends by paying private insurance companies "subsidies” so that the the insurance companies can charge more reasonable premiums to consumers.
This great reduction in Federal expenditures toward health care would be accomplished in several ways. First it will reduce the number of enrollees.The mandate to have insurance would be eliminated. Fewer people will therefore obtain insurance. They will also curtail the number Medicaid enrollees by making requirements more stringent and by rolling back the Medicaid expansions. The assumption is that these uninsured folks will simply not cost the Fed money. However they will cost someone money over time as they end up in the Emergency Room with their unmet health care needs and emergencies. The health care system and the insured patients who pay into it will cover their bills, and health care costs will have to rise to compensate.
Secondly, the Fed will save money by asking consumers to shoulder a higher percentage of their health insurance costs by paying higher premiums and having higher deductibles. In return the Fed plans to offer “ tax credits”. Tax credits are not money. They are a lower tax bill at the end of the year. But who can use tax credits ? Only people with appreciable taxes. Tax credits will do low income or even middle income people little to no good. These are the people who need the most help.
Thirdly the Fed will save money by requiring States to pay more for health care. They have proposed cutting Medicaid money dispensed to states giving instead “ block grants” of lesser value.
Fourth the Fed plans to make huge cuts to key health organizations such as the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
Fifth and perhaps most importantly, the Fed will save money by cutting services. First on the chopping block is the contraceptive mandate. And if some of you say the Fed will only pay through the nose for increased unintended pregnancies, fear not, there is talking of cutting maternity services as well. Emergency services and mental health services will be cut, and Planned Parenthood is to be defunded.
The anticipation is that millions would lose health insurance altogether. The related expectation is that costs for those that remain in the market will skyrocket. Millions of tax dollars will be saved, and this will be trumpeted as a great benefit. In fact it will be a benefit only to those with a significant tax burden. Those with bigger incomes will obviously benefit the most, since they pay the most taxes. So, in the final analysis, money for the general welfare of the nation, the care of pregnant women and children, and the care of the poor will be taken out of the public coffers and placed back in the hands of the well to do who currently pay large taxes. Make no mistake, these wealthy people will still pay high taxes. They will just be slightly less high. The degree of good done by the tax cut for the wealthy will not match the harm done to the poor by the loss of their insurance.
This plan would most likely result in millions of uninsured. There will be less health screening. Thus there will be fewer pre-cancers and early cancers caught and treated. There will be more unintended pregnancies. There will be more abortions, and more STIs. There will be more unreimbursed emergency visits at hospitals. There will be more missed work, unemployment and disability. There will be more resentment.
The betterment of society is a collective responsibility. There are some older senators who have complained that they do not want to foot the bill for birth control or maternity care since they themselves will never need any. How would they feel if I said I did not want my insurance premiums to encompass the burden of paying for those who smoke, drink, or do not stay fit ? Perhaps I should start an insurance pool for the young, fit and beautiful. That would be great except they would not let me in.
A firestorm of objection has been lit. Among the incensed are Senate Democrats. Also objecting for different reasons are certain Republicans: Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruse (TX), Ron Johnson WI) and Mike Lee (UT, and others, members of the so called “ Freedom Caucus". Also expressing reluctance were other Republicans Toomey (PA) and Collins (ME).
Top medical groups have criticized the bill, most notably and loudly, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It is worth repeating the College’s statement on the legislation: “ Despite numerous efforts to collaborate and provide input throughout this process, women’s health expertise was rejected. It is reckless for legislation that will have such an immense impact on American lives and the economy to proceed without the opportunity for public hearings or any external commentary.”.
On Capitol Hill there were angry protesters demonstrated, many of whom were in wheelchairs. 43 were arrested. Elsewhere across the country, demonstrations have been taking place. It seems the whole country is worried and upset.
What’s next ? The draft goes to the Congressional Budget Office. There they will attempt to assess the direct and indirect, short term and long terms costs of the proposal. From there it may make it to the Senate floor for debate. If even as few as two Republican Senators disapprove of the bill, it will not pass.
My father in law was a conservative gentleman who practiced Obstetrics and Gynecology for over 40 years. He was a Republican and very active in medical politics, advocating for better health care for pregnant women across the state. He passed on a couple of years ago. I am glad he has not witnessed the degeneration of the Republican party and the disregard with which health care, women, and children are being treated.
Medical Monday, medical portion, will have to come in a subsequent post, since this is already a very long dispatch.
Again, please accept this reminder to call your Senator and let them know what you think.
And for something upbeat, take a look at a book I just finished. It is called The Year of Living Danishly. You will get some smiles, but also some understanding of how another very successful country runs the relationship between taxes, health care, and happiness.