Health care still in danger

April 26, 2017

Rutland Herald
Brenda PATOINE

Back in January, as the Republican controlled U.S. Congress was threatening to gut Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), Vermonters and Americans everywhere rallied en masse in protest. In Burlington, more than 1,000 people packed into a high school auditorium, crowding the aisles and holding signs to support the Save Our Healthcare movement that was sweeping the country. It was just one of hundreds of like events across the nation, spurred by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ leadership to fight back against GOP threats to health care.

In February, as the battle in Washington continued, health care rallies in Rutland, Bennington and Montpelier brought out hundreds more in each town in a show of solidarity to keep health care affordable. And in March, on the day the GOP tried to bring their disastrous health care bill to the U.S. House of Representatives, an event at the State House packed the Cedar Creek Room — with its wall murals of famous battle scenes — to implore Gov. Phil Scott to stand up for Vermonters and join the fight.

Despite Scott’s notable silence, the battle for health care was won — at least initially — as the GOP retreated in the face of sure defeat and House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill before it went to a vote. But the war rages on. Just this week the word came that the GOP and Trump were back at it, floating an even more draconian version of its failed health care bill and promising a vote on it when Congress returned from recess this week.
Is anybody paying attention any more?

On the day Trump paraded his GOP allies in the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus in front of news cameras at the White House to announce the resurrection of their “repeal and replace” bill, fewer than 100 people attended a Health Care for All town hall at Montpelier High School. Dozens of people spoke about how their lives, or the lives of loved ones, would be be at risk if the GOP plans are enacted into law. Why so few people? Have Vermonters forgotten that their health care is still at risk?

The latest GOP effort is better described as “ repeal and steal.” It guts health care for millions of Americans for the sake of forking over huge tax breaks for the superrich. Some 24 million people will still lose their health care — 10 million in the first year. Medicaid will still be slashed by more than $800 billion — putting rural states like ours in hot water.

Kowtowing to far-right Republicans, the new bill goes even further, allowing insurance companies to essentially price people with pre-existing conditions right out of their health care. The GOP is doing this in a really sneaky way though, and will have you believe they are preserving Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, while in fact they’re removing the brakes on insurance firms. Don’t believe the spin.

If the Republicans have their way, insurance companies will also be able to impose “lifetime caps” on medical care. Once your health care expenditures reach that limit, you’re done. These two provisions alone — lifetime caps and the loss of protections for pre-existing conditions — will, ironically, hurt the people who need health care the most. The chronically ill, the disabled, the elderly and children with health conditions will be devastated.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, a bill proposing universal primary care, which would have given primary care healthcare to every Vermonter at no cost, and would have helped counter anything the Republicans do at a national level, languished in a Senate committee. Despite 14 co-sponsors in the Senate, the bill never even made it to the markup phase, never mind to the Senate floor for a vote.

The war for health care is far from over. But Vermonters seem to have forgotten what they’re fighting for. The time to wake up is now.

Brenda Patoine is a freelance science writer who lives in South Burlington. She has health care today because of the Affordable Care Act.