CommentaryHealthcare

A moral test for government

America’s war on poverty is back in the news. It’s taken a new turn and found an altogether new way to solve the problems of the poor. The Trump administration calls it the American Health Care Act. And it appears the plan is to just let the poor and disadvantaged die.

The GOP’s favorite villain—the nation’s poor—is directly in the crosshairs of the AHCA. Conservatives’ justifications for the act’s brutality range from the absurd claim “the poor don’t want healthcare” to the appalling defense of who should be covered: “Those people who lead good lives,…have done things the right way.”

So who haven’t led good lives and done things the right way? America’s poor and aging people, those with preexisting conditions, and those who depend on hospitals, state-funded assistance, and Planned Parenthood. The New York Times writes, “Poor Americans are much more likely to become uninsured under the bill,…and those who retained coverage would pay much more of their limited incomes on premiums and deductibles.”

But, for Republicans, this is all okay. Because AHCA is not really a healthcare plan and maybe was never intended to be. The act is an ineptly disguised tax break for the rich. As written, AHCA will provide “America’s wealthiest taxpayers with a $346 billion tax cut over the next 10 years. And every cent of that will go to taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples).” Billionaire Warren Buffet has called it “a huge tax break for guys like me.”

[O]vercoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.  (Nelson Mandela)

The AHCA does exactly what Donald Trump’s working-class supporters have wanted. It frees healthy people from having to pay the cost of the sick. Despite the callousness of that thought, it is only the surface issue. Beneath it lies two principles long debated in this country.

One debate begins with the fundamental question, “Is healthcare a right or a privilege?” If it’s a right, should the U.S. government make sure all people have access to healthcare? Certainly, the majority of Americans want federally funded healthcare. And fully 84% want to keep the Medicaid expansion provided by the current Affordable Care Act. If, on the other hand, healthcare is a privilege, is it then to be enjoyed by only the healthy, wealthy, and young? What happens to the working poor?

At the core of the second debate is the question of which comes first—an American democracy that stands for justice or an American capitalism that gets to profit at any cost? The AHCA clearly pits the tenets of a moral society against the corruption in capitalism. It puts the for-profit healthcare industry—and those who prosper because of it—against those who suffer and their caregivers. Poor Americans and some in the middle-class are caught in the middle of this fight, waiting and wondering when they or a loved one will be stripped of lifesaving care.

It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.  (Hubert H. Humphrey)

We as a nation are living with a vindictiveness against poverty that, like a cancer, must be removed. To do so requires the body to stop attacking itself and address the invading pathogen—greed. In battling the disease, we must be aware of the potential complications. We must ask questions of the doctors. We must press for a treatment best suited to benefit the entire being.

Meanwhile, we must remind the current administration that past leaders have pondered how best to govern without sacrificing the lives of the sick, old, or just born. Maybe enough leaders will be so motivated by a compassion for, and obligation to, their fellow citizens that they will reject the lavish parties and courtships of the corporate healthcare giants. Maybe they will even establish laws to prohibit those giants from profiting in exchange for lifesaving care.

Americans wait, as history’s pen records the Trump administration’s reaction to this moral test of government.