Republicans call kicking millions off their healthcare 'freedom'? That's perverse
Trumpcare does nothing but serve the rich at the expense of the poor and the sick. This is no freedom – it is a form of oppression
By Adam Gaffney, M.D.
The Guardian, March 14, 2017
Paul Ryan is promoting Trumpcare as if it were some sort of medical Magna Carta – a brave declaration of healthcare freedom. “We’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do. You get it [healthcare] if you want it. That’s freedom” he recently said on Face the Nation. Freedom to die uninsured, that is.
It’s not that House Republicans are proposing some libertarian healthcare promised land wherein open heart surgeries and rounds of chemo are bartered and traded like tubes of toothpaste – far from it. Instead, the bill largely relies on Obamacare’s blueprint, although it mangles its details for the benefit of the rich while stripping coverage from a staggering 24 million people by 2026 (according to Monday’s estimates from the Congressional Budget Office).
Ryan’s healthcare bill would, like the Obamacare, provide subsidies (or tax credits) for the purchase of private insurance policies. Yet these tax credits would be comparatively more regressive and less generous than those in the Affordable Care Act (ACA); many Americans would thus be freed from having affordable premiums.
The Republican bill also discards Obamacare’s cost sharing subsidies for low-income individuals, who would henceforth have the freedom to pay higher copayments and deductibles. Additionally, it prevents tax credits from being used for the purchase of plans that cover abortion, freeing more women from control over their own reproductive systems.
The bill would also punish those with low incomes by squeezing federal funding of Medicaid beginning in 2020, effectively emancipating millions of poor people from the ranks of the insured.
Trumpcare would at the same time cut the ACA’s taxes on the wealthy, which, as the New York Times recently reported, would redistribute upward some $144bn over a decade to millionaires. Now in fairness, this provision would increase freedom for some: freedom, for instance, to buy a second vacation home, or a first yacht.
And finally, what Ryan seems to see as Trumpcare’s greatest emancipatory element – the elimination of the ACA’s unpopular individual mandate – would simply be replaced by a 30% premium penalty, assessed by insurers, for those who spent time uninsured. As Patrick Henry might have put it: give me a continuous coverage premium surcharge as opposed to a tax penalty, or give me death.
Unbelievably, Ryan sees “freedom” in all of this devastation.
For Ryan and those in his ideological camp, freedom in healthcare is basically the freedom of the consumer, who should be free to buy – or not buy – the particular insurance plan that suits his or her needs and tastes. Hence the bewilderment of Representative John Shimkus who recently asked why, exactly, men should be compelled to buy plans that cover maternity care (Trump’s pick to lead the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, has said something similar).
Ryan thus offers a peculiar vision of healthcare freedom. For the medical literature tells us – to no one’s surprise – that the uninsured are more likely to die. And as noted, the CBO has now estimated that Trumpcare will increase the ranks of the uninsured by 24 million in a decade from now.
The Ryan formulation of healthcare freedom is thus a false freedom. Real healthcare freedom would look vastly different, though it would also go well beyond what the ACA has accomplished.
Healthcare freedom worthy of the name would mean knowing that one will never – and can never – be uninsured. It would provide the liberty to choose the doctor and hospital of one’s choice.
Healthcare freedom would ensure women’s control over their reproductive health. And critically, true healthcare freedom would mean that we can all make healthcare choices based on our medical needs and personal preferences – not our bank balances – which means eliminating today’s increasingly onerous copayments and deductibles.
Trumpcare would take us in the opposite direction on each of these fronts.
This more egalitarian vision of healthcare freedom may sound utopian, but it is entirely achievable: it emerges when societies create social rights to healthcare through the development of universal healthcare systems.
The conservative vision of healthcare freedom offered by Ryan and company, in contrast, is not a form of freedom at all: indeed, by serving the class interests of the rich at the expense of the welfare – and the very lives – of the poor and the sick, it is better seen as a form of oppression.