Image: President Trump meets with lawmakers at the White House in March, 2017, to discuss replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Public Domain.
I was in a hospital bed when I heard the news that the so-called American Health Care Act had passed in the House of Representatives. I had nothing to do but read, so I read everything I could about it. Here’s what I know for sure:
- We don’t know exactly how many people will be affected, and neither do the people who voted for the bill. Speaker Ryan saw fit to push the bill through before it could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. What we do know is that an earlier version of the bill would have reduced the number of people with health coverage by 14 million in 2018, 21 million in 2020, and 24 million in 2026. That version of the bill was rejected by the super-conservative Freedom Caucus representatives as being “too liberal.” It seems fair to expect that this bill will negatively affect at least as many people.
- If a person doesn’t have health insurance, their ability to get medical care except for emergency room care is practically nil. I have done the research on this myself. Back in the bad old days before I could marry Linda, back when I was on my own for health insurance, I often couldn’t get health insurance because I had pre-existing conditions. When I called a doctor’s office and said I would pay cash, that didn’t matter – they wouldn’t take me unless I had health insurance. I can understand that – what is the doctor supposed to do if I turn out to have something serious, something I can’t pay for out of pocket?
- It is true that if a person doesn’t have health insurance, they will be seen in the emergency room. However, all the hospital is responsible to do is to stabilize the person who lacks health insurance. ER care is the most expensive care there is, so ER’s can’t absorb the cost of non-life-threatening illness. Which brings me to the last thing:
- Bad health insurance coverage affects everyone, not just the person stuck with the lousy policy. In 2013, before “Obamacare,” medical bills were the biggest cause of bankruptcies in the United States. The most affordable health insurance policies had such high deductibles and covered so few things that even people with policies wound up in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy means that someone is broke, but it also means that many of the people they owe money to will never be paid. Also, who pays for people to go to the ER if they don’t have health insurance? Those expenses wind up driving up health care costs for everyone.
Was Obamacare, more properly called the Affordable Care Act, the answer? The ACA had a lot of problems, just as Medicare had a lot of problems when it first passed in the 1960’s. It needed improvements. But simply taking care away from people isn’t the answer.
However, none of this is the WORST thing about the American Health Care Act. Obamacare raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to provide healthcare for millions of Americans; the AHCA reverses that. It provides a huge tax cut to high-income Americans by providing less health care to people with pre-existing conditions. It penalizes sick people to put money in other people’s pockets. (Full disclosure: I’m probably one of the people would will get a tax cut under this bill.)
There are those who say that this is “being realistic.” I say it is a sin, the worst sort of sin. It says that some lives simply aren’t worth the bucks, specifically aren’t worth an extra couple of thousand in the pocket of a person who already has a lot. It says that other lives are worth the bucks because their family has disposable income. It values lives according to their bank accounts.
Jewish tradition teaches us that almost nothing is more important than saving a life. Specifically, the only higher commandments than saving a life are the commandments against murder, incest, or idolatry.
I say it is idolatry when we take away health care to line the pockets of the wealthy. I don’t like paying taxes any more than the next person, but Judaism teaches me that I may not make an idol of anything, including money. I may not value it over human life, even the life of a person I don’t like, or disapprove of, or even someone who has hurt me.
This evil bill, the American Health Care Act, is not yet law. It still has to go through the Senate, where God willing it will be stopped. I believe I have a moral obligation to fight it with every power at my disposal: to write letters, to make phone calls, to make it clear to the senators that I do not want a tax cut that will kill people.
Despite the popular fantasy that all illness is avoidable, much illness is NOT avoidable. Bad things happen to good people. The AHCA is murder for hire: in its present form, people will die from it so that others can have a tax cut. Jewishly speaking, that is evil.