The Cynical Opposition of Some Democrats to Universal Health Care

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The Cynical Opposition of Some Democrats to Universal Health Care

"People are correct to be outraged that the American Health Care Act is estimated to cause an additional 22 million people to be uninsured by 2026, but under the Affordable Care Act right now, there are 28 million people who are priced out of health insurance markets and remain uninsured."

"People are correct to be outraged that the American Health Care Act is estimated to cause an additional 22 million people to be uninsured by 2026, but under the Affordable Care Act right now, there are 28 million people who are priced out of health insurance markets and remain uninsured." (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr/cc)

After strong opposition from Americans concerned with the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act and opposition from Senate Republicans forced Mitch McConnell to delay the Senate vote on the American Health Care Act, and growing support across the country for a single-payer health care system, the time is ripe for a push towards truly universal health care.

Despite the opportunities afforded amidst the current situation and the Trump administration’s plummeting approval ratings, as well as more than half of House Democrats co-sponsoring Rep. John Conyer’s (MI) single-payer bill, many high-profile Democrats continue to employ cynical rhetoric in their subtle refusal to endorse a truly universal health care system.

Instead, Americans are forced to witness the opportunistic spectacle of Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) professing their belief that health care is a right and not a privilege; the same Cory Booker who was one of 13 Democrats to vote against legislation allowing Americans to import cheaper Canadian prescription drugs, while simultaneously refusing to endorse either a single-payer or national health service system.

Other cynical uses of political rhetoric can be seen in statements made by high-profile Democrats like Rep. John Lewis (GA) who argue that “Affordable health care is the birthright of every American,” despite dismissing universal health care because “there’s not anything free in America.” The carefully added qualifier “affordable” is the operative word that betrays their true belief that health care isn’t actually a right, but a commodity to be sold on the market, rationed out by consumers’ ability to pay. And there are always going to be people priced out of markets.

People are correct to be outraged that the American Health Care Act is estimated to cause an additional 22 million people to be uninsured by 2026, but under the Affordable Care Act right now, there are 28 million people who are priced out of health insurance markets and remain uninsured. In a country where the majority of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency, it’s no surprise that even the insured can face immense medical debt, with medical expenses being the No. 1 reason Americans file for personal bankruptcy.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, former president Barack Obama claimed that progressives who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (VT) presidential campaign and Medicare-For-All proposal undermined the popularity of the program and contributed to its vulnerability. The irony of Obama’s later challenge in his farewell address and claim to support a program that would insure more people at lower costs than the Affordable Care Act was palpable: “If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.”

Obama’s challenge has already been met by almost every other industrialized country, where universal health care plans like single-payer and national health service systems cover everyone at far lower costs than our current privatized system.

Yet, high-profile Democrats like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz continue to stonewall on support for a single-payer system and argue for the flaccid strategy of working within the Affordable Care Act because single-payer isn’t politically viable: “If politically, Medicare-for-All actually became viable, if we elected enough people to Congress, that could make it happen, then I most definitely would be supportive of it.”

Wasserman-Schultz’s tepid response to a question on her support for single-payer is a reflection of compelling arguments made by political-philosophers like Michael Sandel in What Money Can’t Buy, on how markets crowd out morals in public discourse and why we forbid markets in organ transplants; because the buying and selling of goods like human organs degrades them by inappropriately valuing them in terms of monetary worth.

If many of us already recognize the moral hideousness of trafficking in human organs because that would prioritize and value wealthier patients over poorer patients and those who need them the most, why should we permit trafficking in health insurance where private health insurers have perverse incentives to refuse coverage to those who need it the most and have similar outcomes to markets in human organs?

As some have already noted, Democrats who oppose the American Health Care Act without also supporting single-payer, agree in principle that Americans should be allowed to die for the sake of rapacious private health insurers’ profits, and are just haggling over numbers.

Health care is a fundamental human right which should be accessible to anyone regardless of their ability to pay for it, which is also outlined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and if we correctly wouldn’t stand it if we heard Democrats say that they refuse to stand up for the civil rights of minorities because it isn’t “politically viable,” why should we allow our elected officials to make excuses for not fighting for our right to health care until it becomes “politically viable,” instead of right now?

And when we keep in mind that America’s health care crisis is currently causing many to rely on crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe and YouCaring for medical expenses, “cynical” is the appropriate word to describe Democrats who claim to support health care as a right, while simultaneously refusing to make health care anything but an “affordable” commodity.

Joshua Cho

Joshua Cho

Joshua Cho is a recent graduate of Boston College, aspiring journalist, and former intern at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

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