The United States has the distinction of being the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide basic health care to all its citizens.
Some nations accomplish universal coverage through a single-payer system. Others engage private but not-for-profit insurance providers for the job. Whatever the method, the upshot is that everyone, regardless of ability to pay, receives the same preventive and health maintenance care. No one goes bankrupt because he or she gets sick or dies from lack of care.
Health care costs in those countries run about half per capita what we pay, yet our health outcomes rank very poorly in comparison on almost all indicators, like life expectancy and infant mortality.
How can this be when the other side of the story is that the very best, most innovative, most cutting-edge health care in the world is our remarkable accomplishment? It’s really quite simple. In spite of the unavoidable fact that we’re not doing well comparatively and paying way too much, partisan politics blocks efforts to curtail health care costs and provide access to all our citizens.
We took a giant step when, by the skin of our teeth, we managed to finally pass the Affordable Care Act, which is big advancement, but still short of the goal.
The root cause of our unqualified failing and national frustration with roadblocks to addressing the problem is actually not elusive. I just came across this illuminating observation that provides the key to understanding our failure.
The Republican Party is the only political party in any industrialized nation that dares openly oppose guaranteed basic health care for every citizen of its homeland.
The history of GOP obstructionism during every legislative effort to widen access to health care for Americans is well recorded, from the enactment of Medicare to the present.
It hasn’t always been just the usual knee-jerk response to any Democrat initiative to enact change. Even President Richard Nixon couldn’t lead them to support a market-based approach to cover everyone. They wear their unique-in-the-world opposition to universal health care as a badge of honor and distinction among their own.
Most Republicans won’t say it aloud but their position resonates unequivocally with Rush Limbaugh’s loud and proud pronouncement: “People deserve only the health care they can pay for.”
Republican resistance that has consumed Congress for years has moved seamlessly to many (but thankfully not all) Republican-dominated state houses, where actual blocking of health care has become real with already measurable repercussions.
I don’t serve in any official capacity, but I’ve attended meetings with the local folks who have taken on the task of helping people in our area find health insurance through the insurance exchange, and I’ve experienced their frustrations. All efforts by the majority party in Nashville to throw up roadblocks have ultimately been overcome except one. The Republican majority has chosen to block the Medicaid expansion provision even though it will mean extensive loss of medical-related jobs and services and likely some rural hospital closures. Local economies will suffer.
What should be fulfilling, even joyful, times for the folks who serve at local health care enrollment centers too often become heartbreaking encounters. For every person or family they can help find insurance for the first time or more affordably than they could have imagined, there’s likely one or more they have to turn away. These are the ones who aren’t poor enough for TennCare and too poor to qualify for insurance through the insurance exchanges.
There are from 100,000 to 300,000 Tennesseans in the demographic whose needs were to have been met by Medicaid expansion. The roadblocks will remain until partisan obstinacy proves too costly. There is no way out without a change of heart, which does happen. The very, very conservative Utah legislature just gave their working poor the gift ours are still denied.
When the working poor come for help, as they do, no matter how desperate or compelling their stories, the interview ends in disappointment, with expressions ranging from tearful breakdowns to stoic resignation. Neither side of the interchange will recover easily, not the ones who so need relief nor the ones who know how senseless it is with relief so close.
Congress’s grandstanding with 40 costly futile votes resulted in a $24 billion loss for the economy and embarrassment for the GOP.
Following that, why any conservative-majority statehouse would take up the mantle is beyond me, especially when they themselves accept public assistance. Yearly Tennessee taxpayers fork out 80 percent of $8,000 to provide health insurance for each legislator or 80 percent of $15,000 if they choose family coverage. Ethically, they should either give that up or stop the strutting gamesmanship when someone else’s access to health care is at stake.
There’s no honor in being the last and only political party, the last ideological bastion, in the entire industrialized world that officially endorses blocking access to affordable health care.
Judy Garland of Johnson City
is a community activist.