NASHVILLE, TN – Pronounced dead several times already, the Republican healthcare bill is stalking the halls of Congress like a zombie looking for fresh meat but finding none to feast upon.
Newsweek reports that since March 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law, Republicans have tried to modify or repeal Obamacare 70 times but they have never succeeded.
The last and most embarrassing failure occurred last Friday at1:38 am in the morning when Senator John McCain of Arizona cast a deciding “No” vote against the so-called “skinny repeal” Republican healthcare bill.
Despite suffering from brain cancer, McCain returned to Washington and was expected to vote in favor of repealing Obamacare. Instead, he dramatically gave the Republican bill a thumbs down.
The bill would have repealed the ACA, but not replaced it, leaving 15 million Americans without health coverage and increasing premiums for people with health insurance by about 20 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. McCain’s vote may turn out to be the most significant one he ever made in the U.S. Senate.
“I imagine Senator McCain’s experience of learning that he might not have very long to live, kind of put in perspective a lot of those little things that seem to be driving the games in Washington,” said Michele Johnson of the TN Justice Center.
“He doesn’t much care whether his colleagues like him or whether or not there will be attack ads because he did the right thing,” she added.
Allison Donald is a community organizer for the Center for Independent Living and the Memphis chapter of ADAPT (Americans Disabled Attendant Programs Today). She describes herself as a paid hell-raiser. The group has been on the front lines of resistance to the Republican efforts to derail Obamacare.
“What we have tired to do is raise awareness about the importance of this healthcare fight,” said Donald. Her group has run phone banks and a letter writing campaign to urge Tennessee’s congressional delegation not to kill Obamacare. If Republicans managed to vote in Trumpcare it would likely cut Medicaid drastically and put an end to long-term support for the disabled.
Some 60 ADAPT activists staged a “die-in” June 28 at Senator Mitch McConnell’s Washington office. Protestors were pulled from their wheelchairs leaving the hallway littered with empty chairs and spots of blood on the floor.
Wheelchair warriors are on the front line of the healthcare fight but their strategy of civil disobedience is not just identity politics. The disabled are kind of like canaries in the coal mine. They are the most vocal and visible of millions of Americans who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, or Security Security.
As part of their overhaul of the ACA, the Republicans want to reduce Medicaid funding by $800 billion. Johnson says 30,000 Tennesseans would have premature deaths if the Republicans end the long-term support services that currently allow disabled people to live and function independently and provide things like chemotherapy for cancer patients who are not wealthy.
“When somebody dies before their time, the loss is felt for generations in the community and within families,” Johnson said. “Kids need their parents and parents need their kids and every single death that is unnecessary because of political game playing is unacceptable,” she said.
Thirty-one protestors in the Senate gallery were arrested last week. They shouted “Kill the bill, don’t kill us!” Another 64 disabled protestors were arrested in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building.
Several news accounts have noted the high profile disabled people and their advocates have taken in confronting the healthcare crisis. Healthcare advocates say the Republican version of healthcare would mean the end of both Medicaid and Medicare as Americans have known them since they were first introduced in 1965.
Conservatives haven’t mentioned them much during the healthcare debate because both programs work well and they are very popular with the general public as is social security. The Republican healthcare agenda puts all three American social insurance programs on the chopping block by capping Medicaid costs and shifting the responsibility to states in the form of block grants with much smaller budgets.
ADAPT says “repeal and replace” are code words for drastic changes in the nation’s social insurance system that would shred the country’s safety net. The ironically named Health Care Freedom Act, the so-called “skinny repeal” bill, would have given the disabled, the poor, and the elderly the freedom to die. The bill failed by the slimmest of margins, 52-49.
“We can’t pay for those long-term support and services out of our own pockets. Those are thousands of dollars,” says ADAPT’s Donald. The help disabled people need to get out of bed, dressed, fed, and bathed allows them to go out in the community and work jobs they get paid for working
“You can live, work, play and go places that everybody else who doesn’t have a disability has already been. That’s why this issue is so important to us because our lives depend on it, our civil liberties depend on it,” says Donald.
“We do not want to be locked away in nursing homes. This fight for Medicaid and healthcare was simply that. I want the right to live in my own community and Medicaid affords me that right,” she said.
Tennessee Voices is a children’s advocacy organization founded by Tipper Gore in 1986. They serve children with mental health problems and their families. As a non-profit TN Voices is obliged to remain politically neutral and CEO Rikki Harris often lobbies state politicians, most of whom are Republicans. Harris says her clients rely on “adequate and affordable healthcare coverage” and she was relieved when the Republican bill was voted down.
“The main thing for us is that one in five children have a mental health problem
and 49 percent of those are not getting the help they need,” Harris said.
Her goal is to insure that all Tennessee children have coverage for mental health issues and if the ACA is gutted things will get worse. “That 49 percent figure has to come down and that’s our goal,” she says.
“Most American send their elected official to Washington do the right thing. We might differ about whether it’s the right thing or the wrong thing but what has been breath-taking about the last 3-4 months, is that they aren’t even pretending to do the right thing,” said Johnson.
“They can’t put aside their own selfish interests to do what we as people who are paying their insurance premiums really need them to do, which is to govern and fix problems,” she said.