Some readers may recall Pete Hamill’s articles in the New York Post in the 1970’s when that newspaper had real credibility in the tristate area. He wrote about the outrages of his time in strong, direct language. From the carnage in Vietnam to family-destroying poverty at home to the disgraceful plight of nationalists in Northern Ireland, Pete conveyed his deeply-felt disgust and harsh criticism of the status quo. This was not just an intellectual exercise for Hamill because his heart was openly in every paragraph.
I thought of his genuine espousal of the journalism of outrage when I heard the contents of the Republican Bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare. Their proposal involves removing about 20 million people from the health insurance policies that they now have, and the savings in Medicaid and in the current subsidies for individuals and families, estimated at 600 billion over ten years, will go in tax reductions to the rich – and the more affluent you are the more you benefit. Yes, a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives passed this bill and then joined the President in the White House to drink champagne to celebrate their sordid success.
The Democrats have condemned the new Bill in the strongest terms and promised to defeat it in the Senate. But where are the church leaders, the moral leaders, where is their outrage? Why have I not heard a sermon about the moral abomination of this legislation? Has nobody read the bible, both Testaments, where abusing the poor is the first cardinal sin?
Paul Ryan, a churchgoing Catholic, led this assault on the poor as Speaker of the House and, shamefully, was a central part of the subsequent celebratory backslapping in the White House. I have not heard any suggestion that he has even received a finger-wagging by any church dignitary or theologian for his leadership in passing this morally repulsive legislation.
The argument that Ryan and others trotted out repeatedly on television is that everybody will have access to any health care policy they want. Of course, nobody ever said that access is the problem because the poor, including millions of workers, can’t afford to pay for a policy without government subsidies. Access is obviously not the issue – paying for coverage is.
They also argue that the government should not force young healthy people to have insurance coverage, thus rejecting a central tenet of the ACA. This runs counter to a needed sense of community and solidarity among Americans and neglects the obvious point that today’s ebullient youth are tomorrow’s vulnerable seniors.
The first moral question in Catholic social teaching for judging any proposed legislation asks: How does this impact the common good? Promoting a culture of selfishness has disastrous consequences in any community and clearly fails the critical “common good” test.
Allowing young people to opt out of coverage is a blatant pander to people’s worst instincts. Who pays for the uninsured young person who gets sick? Who foots the bill for the uninsured young woman who discovers she has a latent pre-existing condition? I’m alright Jack and don’t look to me to cover the insurance costs of older vulnerable people – unless of course I am in an accident and must rely on the government to pay for my emergency care!
Obamacare has problems that need to be addressed, but the central item in the Republican agenda since the Bill was passed eight years ago has been to repeal and replace it completely. Amazingly, they had eight years to come up with an alternative and the disgraceful Bill that just passed the House is the best they can do!
In arguing against the Affordable Care Act, Republicans repeatedly cite problems in some states where there are issues leading to large increases in the cost of some policies. Indeed, there are issues that need to be dealt with, but it is also a fact that overall insurance prices have increased less under Obamacare than in the years before its introduction.
All other Western countries have universal coverage for their citizens and their costs per capita are significantly less than in the United States. These other countries follow different approaches, some involving private insurance companies and employer-based systems as well as the government-pays-all arrangement. Surely, the United States could design a system that respects the positive aspects of our history of providing medical coverage while mandating that everyone must have a policy.
In an interview a few years before he ran for office, Mr. Trump opined that it is unacceptable that any citizen should be without health care coverage. And, indeed, during questions at a recent press conference with the Australian prime minister, he commended the system in his visitor’s country as better than what exists in America.
More people are covered under Obamacare than ever before, but, while that is a big step in the right direction, it too is insufficient. The blatant unfairness of the Republican Bill highlights the need for universal coverage, for a system that ensures proper preventive care for every citizen as well as good professional treatment when a person is ill. That should be seen as a human right and a moral imperative