I wrote and recorded a lot of content in an effort to help stop the devastating repeal of Obamacare (not to mention the time planning a major activism campaign that, fortunately and unfortunately, I didn’t get to use), so I wanted to say a few things now that the Republican Senate failed in their effort to uninsure anywhere from 22- to 32,000,000 Americans, depending on which specific legislation they were voting on at any given moment of last Thursday night/Friday morning.
The most important thing I want to say is that this isn’t over. I really wish it was. But while this past Wednesday was absolutely a victory for healthcare rights and for basic human decency, it is not a lasting solution. Left on its own, the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – will, in fact, implode. This is not due to the legislation itself, but rather due to early Republican sabotage which defunded the provisions of the bill that were intended to keep insurance costs down (for more details, read Steven Brill’s excellent article on the topic. Trump himself said he is looking forward to seeing Obamacare implode so that he can blame it on the Democrats – even though it won’t be their fault. In fact, if President Trump acted to enforce Sections 1342 and 1402 of the already-existing ACA (which is on hold pending a lawsuit by the Republican Congress), insurance companies will receive the subsidies they were promised to offset risk under the new law, and consumer premiums will immediately plummet (it is the reason they skyrocketed in the first place).
But this is a president, and for the most part a party, that would happily watch millions of people die (that’s not an exaggeration, healthcare is as life-and-death as it gets) and see 1/6 of our entire economy collapse if it meant that they could use it to their own political advantage.
So what do we do now?
First, let’s take a moment to celebrate. We’ve earned it. And let’s give credit where credit is due. I honor Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain for their honor and bravery in voting against this travesty, and all the Democrats who stood united it against it as well. But even moreso, I want to thank all the amazing disability activists out there for their diligence and sacrifice, in particular the incredible souls at ADAPT, who were dragged out of wheelchairs and thrown in prison for staging a “lie-in” at Mitch McConnell’s office. When you are disabled, it is difficult enough just to get out of bed in the morning – but these people literally threw themselves to the ground to stop this legislation from passing. Many of them went to jail. They endured physical agony to save their own lives and the lives of millions of others. They are the true heroes.
But 49 senators did not care. Remember that. This was too close, people. The bills and amendments that were proposed on Wednesday would have gotten unanimous opposition in every other first-world country on the planet. In our country, it was one vote – ONE VOTE – away from passing.
The Republicans have vowed that they have not given up on healthcare – and what I want you to do is write to them and tell them that they shouldn’t.
Yes, you read that right. Tell them not to give up. But tell them to switch tactics. Tell them to work alongside Democrats to craft legislation that would actually help the American people. Because not all of the Republicans’ ideas about healthcare are bad, and not all of the Democrats’ ideas are good. Obamacare asked the question, “How do we pay for exorbitant medical costs?” It never addressed the more fundamental question of why this is so expensive in the first place.
There are so many ways to bring down medical costs which actually include a great deal of common ground between Democrats and Republicans, to the point where even Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz stood on a stage and expressed solidarity. We can make direct-to-consumer advertising illegal, as it is everywhere else in the world and as it was here for most of our history. We can implement meaningful tort-reform for frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. We can allow people to purchase medications and medical equipment across country lines, where they are cheaper. We can allow Medicare to negotiate drug and medical device prices just like any other insurance company can (this alone could save 650 trillion dollars over the next decade – see Steven Brill’s additional article on the topic here). These are just a handful of examples that could dramatically reduce healthcare costs, and they share support on both sides of the aisle.
So please: write to your representatives and tell them to fight together on these areas of agreement, and encourage them to drop their (so-far successful) attempts to block sections 1342 and 1402 of the ACA. If they do this, they can genuinely solve the American healthcare crisis.
We have to work together. We can no longer afford victories that consist only of defeating our opponents. Our system used to work. We compromised when appropriate, but more importantly we tried to combine the best ideas of both sides. That on its own is an ideal worth fighting for. Will the solutions be perfect? Of course not. But increasingly, the only choices I’m seeing are for whether we move backward, or whether we stand still. I want to move forward – and incremental change is better than nothing.
Which leads me to my final point: we liberals and progressives need to do a better job at verbalizing what we are FOR, and not just what we are against. If we want a public option, we must make the case for it. Every time the Republicans start talking about the corruption, waste, and negligence of “Big Government,” we should talk about those same qualities in Big Corporations. If we want to end factory farming, decrease income inequality, and end discrimination in all its insidious forms, we must fight for those things and so much more. It is a subtle but important difference to stand for equality rather than to merely stand against inequality, and I believe that within this positive framework, more transformative arguments can be made.
And if we want to undo the ridiculous gerrymandering that has turned this country almost entirely red despite there being fewer registered Republicans than Democrats, WE MUST VOTE IN EVERY. SINGLE. ELECTION.
This is how we move ahead. Who’s on board for the ride?