“Kill the bill! Don’t kill me!” chanted protesters in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, opposing passage of the controversial Senate health care reform bill. President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), even if their repeal bill is massively unpopular nationally, with only 17 percent approval based on a recent poll, and will reportedly leave tens of millions of Americans without health insurance. A new study predicts that stripping health insurance away from that many people will lead to 29,000 more Americans dying per year. So, when many of these protesters are begging their senators not to kill them, they are serious.
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler is a primary care physician and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. Woolhandler, who also has been a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act, co-authored the new study “The Relationship of Health Insurance and Mortality: Is Lack of Insurance Deadly?” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “We reviewed the world’s scientific literature on the relationship between health insurance and mortality. There is really now a scientific consensus that being uninsured raises the death rates,” she told us on the Democracy Now! news hour.
As with climate change, Republican politicians tell us to ignore the science. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was questioned at a town hall meeting last month about why he supports Medicaid cuts, which will lead to loss of insurance and, in some cases, death. He replied: “No one wants anybody to die ... that line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” Woolhandler responded: “Sen. Ted Cruz has said that. Marco Rubio has said that. Secretary Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has implied that, that you can be uninsured and nothing happens. That’s simply not true. The science is showing us that if you lack health insurance ... people die earlier as a result.”
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler is a supporter of single-payer health care, also called “Medicare for All,” after the immensely popular taxpayer funded program that covers all seniors age 65 or over and chronically disabled people. She explained how such a system would work:
You would get a Medicare card the day you’re born, and have it your entire life. All medically necessary care would be covered by a tax-funded Medicare for All program. ... All that billing and insurance enrollment is extremely expensive in the United States, consuming 31 percent of total U.S. health spending, according to our research. By going to a simple single-payer system, you could save about half of it, about $500 billion a year, which you could use to get to universal health care and to remove co-payments and deductibles from people who now have them.
Similar systems work well around the world. “Much of Western Europe has single-payer systems. They cover everyone. They live two years longer. They pay less for health care than we do,” Dr. Woolhandler said. “Being uninsured is bad for your health, it can cause deaths. Being fully covered for all medically necessary care, as would happen under Medicare for All, makes people healthier, and it prolongs their life.”
John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced H.R. 676, The Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act. It has received an unprecedented number of co-sponsors, with 113 of his colleagues (all Democrats) signing on. Sen. Bernie Sanders is preparing a similar bill in the Senate, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren just told The Wall Street Journal, “Now it’s time for the next step ... single payer.”
While protesters sitting-in at the Capitol, or in offices of Sens. Mitch McConnell, Cory Gardner and others, get mentioned on the news and dramatic footage of their sit-ins and arrests get some airtime, where are the protesters voices? Rarely are they invited into the studios to explain why they are willing to risk arrest. Instead, the networks turn to the same circle of pundits who know so little about so much, focusing only on the Democratic/Republican divide in Congress.
A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that just 17 percent of people support the current Senate bill. Compare that with single-payer, which gets almost no attention in the media. The Pew Research Center released a report this week, stating that 33 percent of those polled now favor single-payer, up 12 percentage points from 2014.
We in the media should not be a party to the parties, and only present what they are presenting. We need a media that is the fourth estate, not for the state. We need to open the airwaves to include a diversity of voices, including those who are advocating for single-payer health care. It is, as Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and her colleagues have shown, a matter of life and death.