Like a junior varsity football team that finally made a first down, giddy GOP members of Congress held a beer bash Thursday to celebrate House passage of a bill that gives hundreds of millions of tax breaks to the very wealthy and pharmaceutical companies while stripping low- and middle-income, elderly and/or non-healthy people of affordable access to health care, all without holding hearings or researching its effects. Passage in the House is the first step in enacting a new law, but doesn’t guarantee its passage, something you wouldn’t have guessed from watching the hilarity that ensured after Thursday’s vote.
The American Health Care Act of 2017 essentially returns the U.S. healthcare industry back to the days before “Obamacare,” when insurance companies could refuse to cover people with prior conditions (now they can charge such people premiums high enough to price them out of insurance, but the House considers that “access” protection); in just one demonstration of the callousness of this act, having been raped is now a “prior condition” and treatment needn’t be covered by insurers. It allows the elderly to be charged up to five times more than younger people for premiums, eliminates mandatory coverage for many conditions, including childbirth, reduces Medicaid coverage for the impoverished, and so much more.
The act was opposed by, among others, the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and Federation of American Hospitals, the American Cancer Society, the American Healthcare Association, America’s Hospitals and Health Systems, the American Public Health Association, the National Disability Rights Network, and the National Physicians Alliance.
The passage and its celebration were surrounded by bizarre, almost surrealistic, circumstances: members who voted for the bill admitted they hadn’t read it and didn’t understand what it contains, and Donald Trump gloatingly bragged about his “win” and on the same day praised Australia’s single-payer, government-funded health system as superior to the USA’s.
Closer to home, Rep. Rodney “I vote how the chairman tells me to” Frelinghuysen (R-11) confounded logic by voting for the bill while saying he didn’t like it and hoped the Senate would change it. Frelinghuysen’s represents Bryam, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Stanhope and Sparta in Sussex County.
Frelinghuysen had signaled an intention to vote against an earlier incarnation of the bill, largely in response to pressure from activist constituent groups such as NJ 11th for Change, a move some say signaled the death knell for that bill. He faced a backlash from the extreme right wing of his party, especially the Freedom Caucus, and his vote on Thursday says all constituents need to know about which group he considers more important.
Estimates were that the first version of this bill would have eliminated health care coverage for 24 million Americans over the next decade; figures aren’t in for this one yet but they’re expected to be worse.
The median age in Sussex County is 44; thus, roughly half of the county’s residents fall into the group of “older” Americans who can see their insurance premiums rise by up to 500 percent. In addition, older people are prone to have “prior conditions,” by virtue of having been alive for some time, and are more likely to have illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions and cancer, most of which could put coverage out of reach.
Roughly 5 percent of the county’s 142,000 people live in poverty, and the United Way estimated that almost a third of its households are “struggling”—i.e., one lost paycheck or huge medical bill away from disaster. A little over 6 percent of those under age 65 are classified as disabled.
All of these people stand to suffer, some irreparably, if the “American Health Care Act” becomes law, as do hospitals that will again see the uninsured flooding to emergency rooms for care.
And for all of that, we can thank Rodney Frelinghuysen and his cronies, something to remember in November 2018.