Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are the “unalienable rights” the United States is based upon, outlined in the Declaration of Independence we celebrated on July 4. The ability to live a healthy life, and therefore pursue freedom and happiness, is simply not possible without health, and if you have a terminal or diminishing disease, life is not possible without health care. In this carbon-polluted world, in a country where the King, the Clown, and the Colonel’s chains dominate food options for the poor, where drug prices and resources are sky high, a country where diseases are not cured because they’re too profitable, the absence of affordable high quality health care is a human right’s abuse. We must demand this right.
When the United Sates first voted for President Barack Obama, a candidate who very clearly campaigned around the issue of universal coverage, we voted for affordable health care for all Americans. But for almost nine years now, Congress has failed to push through this kind of progressive legislation. The Republican Party has obstructed health care bills, including the original drafts of Obamacare, that provide quality, affordable coverage for all Americans, while the Democrats have failed to show support for a truly universal plan in any meaningful way.
Instead, Congress avoided truly universal health coverage by making sure the insurance and medical providers sustained high profits while forcing average Americans to pick up the price tag, changes which eventually coalesced in the not-so-affordable, not-so-universal, unfair law that is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare.
Now that we are faced with an even worse law—a hugely unpopular bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act written by a dozen men behind closed doors that doesn’t come close to providing a better care alternative to even the ACA—we have to demand resolve based on our democratic inclinations.
Under this proposed bill, an estimated 22 million people will lose their health care coverage, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The mandate that demands all Americans have health care coverage will be gone, but with no established way to ensure that those people who are kicked off get the health care they need. The people who will lose their coverage just happen to be the poorest Americans who need it the most. The Better Care Reconciliation Act leaves it up to the private market to make health care affordable, but as we have seen before, this profit-centered model of insurance coverage will not provide inexpensive medical care for the 22 million people who will get the boot.
As if the assault on the poor wasn’t already center stage, social security would also be slashed by $600 billion over the next ten years, one of the biggest cuts in our country’s history. Fifteen million people would lose Medicaid coverage, disproportionately affecting seniors between the ages of 50 and 64. The oldest people, those over 65, would pay five times more on insurance exchanges than young people and 4 million older adults would lose their coverage by 2026.
But it won’t just be the elderly who are affected by this deep cut to social security, the poor and disabled would face similar defunding and diminished care while states would also have the option to request waivers so they don’t have to provide services for the mentally ill, including those addicted to drugs during the largest addiction epidemic in modern history. After they were criticized for the lack of opioid recovery funding, Republicans added $38 billion, a large amount of money still seen as inadequate by addiction professionals.
The bill will gut the programs we rely on when we need the social safety net to carry us through tough times will be degraded. Not only is this morally repugnant, social security is Article 22 in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Trump repeatedly said he would not cut social security on the campaign trail. But that was when people who need it were supporting him.
While the proposed legislation makes seemingly heartless cuts to the social security benefits lower income Americans so desperately need, the Tax Policy Center estimates the bill would simultaneously decrease federal tax revenues by $700 billion over the next decade. $563 billion of it, according to the Congressional Budget Office score, would come from tax breaks over the next ten years for the richest one percent of Americans making $875,000 a year or more. After receiving so much criticism for this, Senate Republicans announced that the latest version of the bill will keep a 3.8 percent tax on those making $200,000 or more, which is not only inadequate, it does not pay for social security subsidies for people who need health care like even the ACA does.
With the combination of slashing social security and handing the rich a gargantuan tax break, the elite will have all the health care in the world while the poor get crushed under the weight of poverty and ill health they can’t escape. This is not what America voted for when we chose Barack Obama in 2008, and it certainly was not what Trump promised the Americans who elected him in 2016.
What the general American public supported when they voted for Obama was the promise of inexpensive health care for everyone. Now, some would say this doesn’t exist, but when the government is working for its people and not the insurance providers, the opulent, or other corporate donors, it can provide the simple right to the opportunity of health care access to every citizen, regardless whether or not they can afford it.
Decreasing Medicaid is a step further from what we have already voted for and denied at every juncture. In the other direction, a single-payer health care system—a practice of many industrialized countries from Japan to Canada to Norway to the United Kingdom—would make health care cheaper for 95 percent of American households, according to Physicians for a National Health Program. This would be a “Medicare for all” system in which an individual pays based on their ability to do so, and is supplemented from the tax pool, not the individual insurance policies of other Americans. This would be, by far, the most beneficial program for the majority of citizens in this country.
And what, I ask, is the government’s job in a supposed democracy if not to legislate for the benefit of the majority? This is what we voted for in 2008, and this is what even Trump voters supported when they rejoiced that he wouldn’t cut social security. This is what the American public votes for and desires, even if they may not realize it.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans believe the government is responsible for providing health care access to all Americans. The research also indicated that support for the single-payer health care model is on the rise. Another Gallup Poll indicated that the majority of Americans support federally funded health coverage and the single-payer model. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of Americans support the bill up for vote in the Senate, according to a poll conducted by PBS and NPR. What this reveals is that Americans support creating equity for health care access, but bipartisan political brain-washing and disrespect for democracy merely get in the way.
The Democrats say it’s unrealistic, the Republicans say it’s too costly, liberals laugh it off and say it’s never going to happen in their lifetimes, and conservatives say they’re ideologically opposed to anything related to the Welfare State, and support austerity and self-reliance instead. Whatever your political stance, if you believe in a person’s right to access the care that will keep them alive and well, it is time to exercise democracy.
The time for talk is over, and the question of “how do we pay for it?” has an obvious answer: we demand that our tax dollars be invested in the ways we democratically decide. Not only would a single-payer system put money into the hands of Americans while providing access to high quality care, it would enable taxable economic growth and empower the middle and lower classes. Instead, again and again, we choose to allow both Republican and Democratic lawmakers to give tax breaks to the rich for the benefit of the elite. If we can afford to pay trillions of dollars in taxes to kill women and children in the Middle East, and if we can afford to bail out the largest financial institutions in the world, we can afford to keep our own citizens alive and well with the taxes we already pay.
If the Senate votes on this debacle of a bill, we need to take to the streets to demand Congress allocate our tax dollars correctly and demand we tax those with superfluous wealth fairly. If the bill passes, we will stand up to the organizers of our lives and deaths and say no to leaving 22 million people without health care coverage. Let’s say no to cutting Medicaid. Let’s say no to making America sicker. Let’s say no to killing our elderly. Let’s say no to tax cuts for the wealthy.
And if the bill doesn’t pass, or even if they fail to vote on it, we will show both the Republican and Democratic leadership what this country wants, just as we voted for health care for all in 2008. We will offer a viable alternative: a universal, single-payer health care system to genuinely establish life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, regardless of their wealth and income. Let’s demand quality, affordable health care for every citizen.
Ryan Beitler is a journalist, fiction writer, poet, musician, and travel blogger. He has written for PASTE Magazine, Addiction Now, OC Weekly, and his blog Our Little Blue Rock. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org