Two days in a row now we have seen CNN anchor Kate Bolduan react with incredulity when a Democratic member of Congress points out the obvious: that people will die if the Senate healthcare bill becomes law. “We’ll have to ask a Republican about that!” Bolduan breathlessly replied to one Democrat. What she – along with advocates of the bill – fails to understand or prefers to ignore is that you cannot snatch healthcare away from 22 million people without incurring casualties. Of course people will die as a result.
Speaking against the GOP healthcare bill last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called its cuts to healthcare for older and lower-income Americans “blood money.” She went on to say:
“Let’s be very clear. Senate Republicans are paying for tax cuts for the wealthy with American lives. People will die.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 6/22/17
Republicans propose to pay for those tax cuts by gutting the Medicaid program – 40% of which pays for services to the elderly like nursing home care. Some one million seniors nationwide could lose the ability to pay for the long term care they need to survive. States facing $770 billion in federal Medicaid cuts will have no choice but to offer skimpier coverage or kick seniors off the Medicaid rolls altogether.
By law, state Medicaid programs have to cover nursing homes. If those states receive less funding from the federal government, it could increase the pressure on the operations of nursing homes, in turn possibly limiting who can qualify for care. – Yahoo Finance, 6/26/17
We are talking about people with Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders, and other chronic diseases. Few seniors (or their families) can afford to pay the average cost of nursing home care (running some $80,000 a year) without government assistance. Many of these seniors were formerly in the middle class, but had to impoverish themselves to qualify for Medicaid. If they are forced to go without skilled long term care (whether in a nursing home, in the community, or at home), the real question is not whether some of them will die, but how will they survive?
The bill’s age rating provisions could also prove deadly for older Americans. The Senate legislation – like the House’s – allows insurers to charge near seniors (aged 50-64) up to five times as much as younger adults, which will price many out of the market. The rate of uninsured Americans who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty line will double if this bill becomes law. Chronic health conditions tend to develop and intensify during this period of life. If millions of near seniors can’t afford health insurance, they will go without the care they need – which could lead to premature death. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure that one out.
Taking away the guarantee of essential benefits coverage – which the Senate bill also threatens to do – means Americans (especially the poor and elderly) will no longer benefit from timely treatment of festering health problems. One of those is heart disease. According to Kaiser Health News, the leading killer of men and women in the U.S. has been decreasing since Obamacare went into effect.
“The Journal of the American Heart Association found that the rate of sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital dropped by 17% among people aged 45-64 after the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage.” – Kaiser Health News, 6/28/17
It stands to reason that repealing the Affordable Care Act could lead to an increase in heart attacks, which could also mean an increase in fatalities.
This is why the pleas for bipartisanship from Republicans and some of the media ring especially hollow. We have heard pundits describe the disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on healthcare as “semantics”: is the Senate bill a true “repeal” of Obamacare or not? Why, oh why, can’t both sides just get along? Of course, that misses the point. Not only does the bill roll back important protections for all Americans, it is a Trojan Horse for gutting Medicaid and giving the wealthy a $700 billion tax cut. Congressional Democrats refuse to enable the GOP to make these drastic changes. Seniors and their advocates must keep that issue at the forefront – and work to defeat the Senate bill while there is still time. This is not semantics. It is literally life and death.