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Issue #1780      June 7, 2017

Culture & Life

US health care has a relapse

For the right-wing in America, universal health care is some sort of diabolical Communist plot, designed to sap the moral fibre of the nation and open the way for the destruction of democracy itself. “Free enterprise” is their mantra, the answer to all the world’s problems. According to their philosophy, there is no difficulty that cannot be overcome by the simple expedient of finding a way to make a profit from it.

Of all the developed capitalist countries, the USA has the most expensive health care system. Millions of Americans cannot afford to see the doctor or if they do they cannot afford to get their prescriptions filled. In a country where a trip to hospital can land you with a bill running to tens of thousands of dollars, health insurance is essential, and yet millions of Americans have none because they simply cannot afford it.

The people decry the lack of affordable health care and agitate for it at every opportunity. Ranged against them, however, is the well-funded propaganda machine of the “health care industry”, committed to for-profit health care and keen to improve its lucrative business opportunities. So what if millions cannot afford to get sick? As long as the better-off can still afford the outrageous fees charged by private hospitals and specialists, the industry is happy.

President Obama’s very modest universal health insurance scheme (the so-called “Obama-care”) got off the ground despite a vigorous campaign by the industry that portrayed it as that most hideous of anti-American things, “socialised medicine”. It has been drummed into Americans for many decades now that anything even resembling “socialised medicine” must be a very bad thing and as a consequence many now simply accept it as incontrovertible fact. The industry campaigned against this Communist-type evil with such catchy devices as posters in which medical instruments morphed into a hammer and sickle.

Donald Trump, a billionaire property developer, is naturally opposed to anything that smacks of socialism, no matter how tenuous the connection. He denounced Obama-care and declared that once-elected he would tear it up and replace it with a real health care scheme, by which he meant one that the industry would be happy with. This proved to be harder than they expected, as ordinary people expressed concern over their future if they could not afford health care.

Trump and the Republican majority in Congress had to water down their original plan to simply “tear up” Obama-care when some of their own side got cold feet (or grew a conscience) but on May 4 the House passed a bill to do just that. The American Health Care Act (AHCA), aimed at altering or eradicating provisions of Obama-care, “will devastate all but the richest of society with exorbitant medical costs that many cannot afford. Medicaid would be slashed by hundreds of billions. Twenty-four million would be left without health insurance.” – Michael Winship, Emmy Award-winning writer, and the president of Writers Guild of America, East.

This attack on the poor in America will not do the Republicans any good at the next Congressional elections, but in the meantime it was so dear to their hearts that they rammed it through the House without even the pretence of public consultation. As Winship notes: “The fact is, few Republicans have even read the bill. They did not wait for a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office before ramming it through.

“No hearings were held; no group was given the opportunity to raise its objections in such a public forum: no American Cancer Society, AARP, the March of Dimes, the American Hospital Association – all of which, along with many other professional and advocacy organisations, have made their opposition known. No American Medical Association, which announced, ‘millions of Americans will lose their health insurance as a direct result of this proposal.’ ”

That did not worry Trump and his team. On the contrary, they were ecstatic. “The Republicans celebrated this impending tragedy with cheers on Capitol Hill and then got on buses to the White House for some further revelry in the Rose Garden,” notes Winship.

And Ashley Parker observed in The Washington Post that “Trump basked in adulation as lawmakers heaped praise on him.” Trump shouted, “How am I doing? I’m president. Hey, I’m president. Can you believe it?” In Winship’s opinion, “It all felt like a chintzy version of the victory party after a high school football championship. ... The whole thing was very classy, as if the Founders high-fived, fist-bumped and burst into ‘We Are the Champions’ after signing the Declaration of Independence.”

So why were Trump the populist and his Republican Congressional legislators ostentatiously celebrating their “achievement” in passing this legislation?

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, explains it thus: “It is critically important to look at this bill for what it is. It is not in any way a health care bill. Rather, it is legislation whose aim is to take significant funding allocated by Congress for health care for very low-income people and use that money for tax cuts for some of our wealthiest citizens. This is contrary to the spirit of who we are as a nation, a giant step backward that should be resisted.”

On the other hand, it is very much in the spirit of who the American ruling class are. They built up the USA’s wealth by looting the resources of the less developed nations of the world and also siphoning off the profits of the developed countries. Now, with the US economy sliding downhill, they are desperately trying to boost their declining profits by curtailing expenditure on social services, education, health care – anything that would divert to the poor funds which the US ruling class believes should go into their own capacious pockets.

However, since the shock of the election of Trump into the White House the watchword for the whole of the Left in America is now Resistance. This massive attack on the poor and vulnerable is unlikely to be allowed to pass without a fight.

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