Janine Jackson: The US healthcare conversation has come to an odd pass. We have an elected representative who maintains that, because you can go to an emergency room if you’re dying, it’s unreasonable to talk about insurance as a life or death issue. At the same time, there are those who think, in part because of the outrage around the widely reviled legislation the House just passed, that there might be a better opening for a move to a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system, as indeed some states seem to be doing.
How do we hold on to a vision for a truly humane healthcare system, while at the same time fighting just to hang on in the face of efforts to turn the country into something out of Dickens? Margarida Jorge is co-executive director of Health Care for America Now and Health Care for America Now Education Fund. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Margarida Jorge.
Margarida Jorge: Thanks for having me.
Well, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare,” said Raul Labrador of Idaho. That’s a pretty amazing statement, don’t you think?
Of course, it was met with derision, as well as factually debunked. But it does show, among other things, how differently healthcare can be experienced by differently situated people, which in a way makes the reporting very important in explaining the potential impacts of things. Now, I saw plenty of concerns raised about this Republican legislation — around pre-existing conditions, for example — but I wonder, what did you make of media coverage of this process? Is there more that might have been done?
Well, there’s a lot in the bill, and there were two particular pieces that Health Care for America Now and our partners worked quite a bit on that I thought didn’t get as much coverage as I would have liked, given that the impact of those things would have been tremendous. One of those things is the proposal in the Republican bill, not just to roll back Medicaid expansion, which is the way that a lot of people got coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but actually the proposal to go after traditional Medicaid, the Medicaid that’s been around for 50 years, that we all know and like, that takes care of seniors, that provides services to people with disabilities, that insures up to half the kids in the country, that pays for most births in most states, that provides family planning services.
So the proposal to radically restructure that program through caps and block grants would really create devastation over time. And to get back to Representative Labrador’s comment about folks not dying because they don’t have healthcare, certainly many more people would die — they are the poorest people, seniors, women, children — if in fact the Republicans are successful in creating this restructure of Medicaid. So I was surprised that that didn’t get much attention, especially because it would just have devastating consequences on state budgets as well.
And the other piece that I thought didn’t get much attention was the tremendous redistribution of wealth in the legislation. Because, of course, the bill doesn’t just take away coverage from 24 million people, it doesn’t just roll back important provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions and all those things, but the bill actually cuts almost a trillion dollars out of healthcare and then turns right around and gives over half of that back to wealthy people, insurance companies and prescription drug companies, which I think adds insult to injury, that not only are we taking away people’s healthcare, not only are we endangering people’s lives, not only are we making it difficult for even people who have coverage to get the kind of coverage that they need, if they have a pre-existing condition or they need something under the essential health benefits provision, but then at the same time, we are giving money back to the very insurance companies and prescription drug companies that gouged us in the first place.
It’s pretty amazing, and I share your feeling that it wasn’t stressed, exactly, in the coverage. And to your point about Medicaid — I mean, it really was presented, this Republican bill, as repealing Obamacare, you know, the long-awaited effort to dismantle the ACA. And you’re making the point that it actually did much more than that, and so it speaks to the broader agenda.
They’re going well beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act, or making a few tweaks here or there. Though that might not be obvious to everybody, because, of course, they did this through a very expedited process. No CBO score, not much analysis on the policy, and no hearings. But they did it on purpose, because they’re using ACA repeal as a political vehicle to really express their bigger vision and ideology about healthcare, which is that people should just be on their own, and that the government shouldn’t have any responsibility for making sure that people have adequate coverage, that seniors, children, people with disabilities, people that are going to be the most vulnerable, are provided with the healthcare that they need, even after a lifetime of work, or even if they happen to be born with a disability through no fault of their own.
And so we’ve heard Labrador’s comment on people dying. There was a comment earlier by another representative that people who live “good lives” aren’t going to have to worry about pre-existing conditions. And it certainly does make you wonder who is it that these folks in Congress associate with, what is their social circle, what kind of communities do they live in, that they don’t know any seniors that are struggling on a limited income and need Medicaid for their in-home care? They don’t know anybody whose kid was born with a heart defect or with a disability? And I think it certainly does speak to how out of touch they are with their own constituents, that they would vote for a piece of legislation that really does harm to their own people, the people that their job is to actually represent and protect.
Well, and that’s, of course, why so many are trying to dodge those very constituents, and not address them and not address their concerns.
Now, I’ve heard you say that it’s really only because of constituent anger and activism that we were able to learn what we were able to learn, because certainly the congressmembers were not very forthcoming with information, in part because they didn’t have it.
That’s right, yeah. And, frankly, they continue to be very cagey. I was talking to a colleague this morning in New Jersey, who went to the MacArthur event there yesterday. Her sister went and asked a question; the woman had a story about being in recovery from substance addiction, mental illness, and the representative told her, “I guarantee you no one will lose Medicaid coverage under this bill.” Now, that’s an outrageous claim. If this bill became law, millions of people would lose coverage under Medicaid, because the bill repeals the Affordable Care Act; that rolls back the Medicaid expansion by 2020, so 11 million people will lose Medicaid. And then, going after the additional Medicaid program ensures that for many generations to come, fewer and fewer and fewer people will be able to get Medicaid, because of the shrinkage of money coming from the feds to the states to provide those services.
And so I really, I think like constituents out there that continue to be outraged, I continue to be outraged that representatives are making these outrageous claims. And it certainly does confirm the suspicion that we’ve all had, that many of these representatives didn’t even read the bill.
Right. Let me just ask you, finally, the bill that the House passed, it was disapproved of by not just constituents, but virtually every medical group, by doctors, by hospitals. Its future, as we record, in the Senate is unclear, but it did happen. And it seems like it’s illuminating something about the political process that’s not at all pretty. But I wonder, how does it shape your activism, and what are folks doing to get involved in this fight? What can they do?
Well, sometimes I say to my allies, and to the state grassroots groups that we work with, that what happened is that President Trump and the Republicans have become the best organizers amongst us. It is absolutely because of their dishonesty, because of their caginess, that so many people are getting involved and asking questions, including many, many people that never thought of themselves as activists, that never would have gone to a town hall meeting. But these outrageous proposals are causing a level of anxiety and worry that is making regular people want to go to a town hall meeting, want to seek out their representative, want to call the congressman’s office and ask those questions.
And really, that is what democracy is all about, and so in many ways, we are in a fortunate position that so many folks are willing to take action. And I’m really confident that if we continue to mobilize people to take action; that if regular folks continue to watch the news and to say, well, that doesn’t sound right, and call their members of Congress; if people step forward and talk about their own healthcare story; that we are going to be able to win this fight, and help people save their healthcare.
We’ve been speaking with Margarida Jorge of Health Care for America Now. They’re online at HealthCareForAmericaNow.org. Margarida Jorge, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
Thank you so much.