Opinion: Can our “wild west” Congress ever reform Obamacare?


After grand pronouncements by our President, Trumpcare has failed, hopefully for the last time. Little wonder, with the folks that were assigned by Trump to conceptualize and sell it to the politicians and public. The now-disgraced former Secretary of DHHS heads this list.

Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has been on numerous news shows over the last few months since the House first passed Trumpcare. When asked about Trump’s campaign pledges to protect Medicare-Medicaid and to make sure all Americans had coverage at an affordable price, he has consistently avoided answering the query.

Instead, he chooses to respond to the question with his usual obfuscation, vaguely stating that Trumpcare would insure “access” and “patient centered” care. What he really means is that the patient is thrown to the wolves without government assistance, as they were before the ACA (Obamacare), Medicaid, and Medicare were enacted.

Specifically, he misled the public about Trumpcare’s: a.) cutting Medicaid by $880 million dollars; b.) eliminating the legal mandate to cover pre-existing conditions, creating unbearable premiums for the sick and seniors; c.) throwing 20-plus million taxpayers off healthcare insurance; and d.) giving a $600 million tax cut to the wealthy and corporations.

To Price, the ideal situation is where there are no third-party payers at all and poor patients barter chickens for care, as they did in the 1930s. This philosophy is what I call the “wild west” approach to healthcare.

The American Wild West may be gone, but its spirit lives on in former Sec. Price and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s policy pronouncements. How else can one explain the schizophrenic GOP insistence that we are a moral, religious nation while we deny healthcare coverage to tens of millions of our citizens?

According to Wild West mythology, cowboys (forget about women in this mythology) are supposed to be totally on their own, facing the elements John Wayne-style. The cowboy is exceptional, too tough to ask for help; he will make out on his own through sheer grit.

A large portion of the U.S. population still believes this myth, which has little if any historical basis in fact. Furthermore, many Americans believe that we as a nation are exceptional. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 73 percent of Americans hold this view.

The question that we have is how can we be a shining light on the hill while there are an estimated 40,000 unnecessary deaths annually due to failure to provide insurance coverage? We believe it goes back to the false John Wayne myth.

Kirk Douglas once told Wayne that Wayne let the cowboy myth influence him off the set. Douglas, a child of immigrants who changed his name from Issur Danielovich, told him that none of this is real; it is just a Hollywood story.

We have to look at our nation as it is, not the myth. To truly be exceptional and the moral beacon that we as Americans believe that we are, we must cover all Americans with affordable insurance. Trumpcare did the opposite.

Although it is a long shot, I hope that, short-term, this Congress or the next finally realizes this fact and eventually does come up with a bipartisan bill (Alexander-Murray or something like it) that does not destroy the coverage gains made by Obamacare while stabilizing the insurance market and controlling escalating premiums. Longer-term, let’s look at how Europe and the other democracies are able to provide healthcare to all with lower cost and better access and bring that model to the U.S.A. (i.e. single-payer, or strictly controlled utility).

But, progress will not happen with a Congress in the hands of the drug and insurance companies, which are making huge profits. Things will stay this way until our nation’s moral leaders have the fortitude to tell their fellow countrymen and politicians that decent healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and voters demand change.

Jack Bernard, the first director of health planning for Georgia, has been an executive with several national health care firms. A Republican, he’s a former chairman of the Jasper County Commission.


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