It’s hard to process all that has happened in the past few weeks with the introduction, then withdrawal on Friday of the American Heath Care Act. Was the bill pulled back because it was so bad or because it wasn’t bad enough? Was the main consideration in all of this political jockeying the futures of so many members of Congress – their re-electability if they were tied to this bill? Or the risk to their re-elections of not fulfilling the campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare? Is the bottom line, as the Sunday talk shows would imply, the reputation of supposed deal-maker Donald Trump, or the future of House Speaker Paul Ryan, or the ability of the Democrats to sit back and gloat? Has everyone seemingly forgotten that we are talking about people’s lives here?
As our elected officials were fighting, smearing each other, making back room deals and fretting about their political futures, millions of patients were left hanging in the balance, worried about what the potential outcome could mean for them and their families. They were afraid, distressed and anxious about potentially being stripped of the coverage that they were finally able to secure after years of being denied – coverage that made sure they could access care regardless of a pre-existing condition – and coverage that removed the annual and lifetime caps that once loomed large over so many with serious and major illnesses. We know from much research that distress and anxiety like that experienced by millions over the past several weeks – even months - can have a negative and sometimes dramatic impact on one’s health and health outcomes. Yet it seems that the humanity and the suffering of so many were completely lost in this debate.
The one thing that everyone agrees on is that Obamacare is far from perfect. There are many that believe it is a good start and many who have benefitted from it since its inception. So why can’t we use it as a starting point and work on the fixes needed to make it better? Why did the Republicans feel the need to introduce an entirely new bill (which, by the way, kept many of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act) instead of bringing both parties together to fix what already has a foundation of support. It became clear that the Freedom Caucus was not going to be happy until every reasonable consumer protection was completely stripped from AHCA, but there certainly was considerable consensus on keeping things like no denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions and keeping your kids on your plan until the age of 26. Why don’t we just fix it and call it ObamaTrumpCare?
Now the Administration says it will hang the ACA around Democrats’ necks until it implodes, rather than even attempting to make it better, and turn its attention to tax reform. Is that really what is best for the American people? Is that is what is best for people facing serious and life threatening illnesses?
I would venture to guess that if we put a bunch of patients in a room today, they could figure out a way to fix it in no time. After all, patients in this country deal with trade-offs and compromises every day. They are used to disappointment and not always getting what they want (or even need), but they find a way to soldier on – and find a way to do the best that they can for themselves and for their families. It is a shame that Congress and the Administration cannot follow that example and find a way to do what is best for the American people. I hope that we are not so callous that we will wait for Obamacare to implode (if that truly is its trajectory) before we do anything to help the people that need coverage and care. We are better than that. Aren’t we?