13 Senators Versus America’s Health

A group of thirteen senators sit behind closed doors clandestinely crafting a bill that puts the lives of millions of Americans at stake. It sounds like the premise of the next HBO Capitol Hill drama, but it is the reality that bred our nation’s current dilemma.

The Senate has opted to postpone the vote on their proposed bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) until after the Fourth of July holiday week. The delay comes a day after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined that the Senate’s plan – the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) – would result in twenty-two million additional Americans losing their health care coverage over the next ten years. The Senate’s hesitation to enact such a harmful piece of legislation is encouraging, but the postponement is not a cause for celebration; it is a call to action. We must use the extra time to the fullest, continuing to urge our senators to reject the BCRA and any bill that imperils the wellbeing of so many Americans.

The 2010 passage of the ACA transformed the nation’s health: twenty million more Americans were added to the healthcare rolls, including low- and middle-income citizens, people with pre-existing conditions and those with disabilities, seniors, children, and people of color. The uninsured rate for African Americans dropped by almost half, from 27% in 2010 to 14.5% in 2015. The inequity in uninsured rates for African American and white children was completely eliminated. For the first time in our country’s history, a black child was no longer more likely to be uninsured than a white child.

The Senate’s bill promises to catapult us backwards, back to a time prior to the ACA when forty-seven million Americans, including four million children and thirty percent of the African-American population, went uninsured. In addition to adding twenty-two million to the ranks of the uninsured by 2026, the Senate will be make healthcare more expensive for seniors and people who are already sick, increase out-of-pocket costs for doctor’s visits, slash subsidies to help low-income people pay for health insurance, and cut Medicaid support to states by three-quarters of a trillion dollars. Meanwhile, the bill proposes tax cuts of about $700 billion for our country’s wealthiest corporations and individuals – padding the pockets of the rich at the expense of the health of the poor.

The content and manner of development of the Senate’s plan for health care reform disregards Americans’ wellbeing and their rights as citizens of a democracy.

In bum-rushing a provision through Congress, our Senators are failing as representatives. The senators are deliberately silencing the voices of their constituents and refusing to collaborate with their fellow legislators. They are engaging in an outrageous and counter-democratic process. They are treating the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans as partisan sport.

What’s more, the thirteen members of the secret group were entirely unrepresentative of the Senate and of the nation. As the New York Times reported, Senator Mitch McConnell cunningly selected a staunchly conservative, perfectly homogenous group, which excluded Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican senator, and all five female Republican members. Behind closed doors, the thirteen had free reign to design a bill that would meet their interests and benefit their healthiest, wealthiest constituents.

The thirteen senators have also eschewed all norms of due process for vetting legislation by holding no hearings and conducting no impact assessment. This is generally irresponsible, but when it comes to a healthcare – a literal matter of life or death – it is unacceptably reckless.

It is now up to the American people to speak out, assert their personal stake in this health care decision, and restore the democratic process. The lives of children and the elderly are at stake. There is no time to delay.

As we work on ensuring a fair and inclusive procedure for developing our health care system, we mustn’t forget that we already have a law that, while imperfect, has an impressive track record. The ACA brought care to forty-seven million citizens who had never before known the security and peace of mind that accompanies quality, affordable health coverage. That’s what “better care” looks like.

Hilary Shelton is the Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. Learn more about the NAACP at NAACP.org