July 5, 2017

Jody Hice Takes the Wrong Path on Health Care

Rep. Jody Hice is a former right-wing talk show host. The only reason that he was elected to represent Athens, a liberal bastion, is that our state legislature decided to add rural, very red counties into the district to ensure a moderate (as was the Democrat who ran against him) stood no chance. This gerrymandering is responsible for electing ideologues like Hice all over the country, in many red (and a lesser number of blue) states.

He had absolutely no government experience before his election, or understanding of how his actions might affect the people of his district. He is an ideologue who sees things through an unrealistic anti-government prism.

And it shows in his vote for Trumpcare. But he is not the only right-wing radical when it comes to health care. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and House Speaker Paul Ryan are the health-care-reform brain trust of the GOP. Conservative pundits tout their revolutionary new ideas, but let’s examine what they have really proposed in the past.

Ryan’s claim to fame is fiscal austerity. He has advocated major cuts to domestic, NOT military, spending. But at what price? Ryan’s last budget under the last president contained such items as a full repeal of Obamacare with no replacement at all. Tens of millions would have been thrown into the ranks of the uninsured. Unfortunately,  Trumpcare (AHCA) is not much better.

Price formerly worked at Grady Hospital, the Atlanta facility for the indigent. Most physicians who see the sort of problems that emanate from lack of care are empathetic to the problems of our less fortunate citizens, but certainly not Price. Privileged, coming from a long line of physicians, he was born on third base, but believes he hit a triple.

Price has repeatedly supported legislation that was even to the right of his party. It should be no surprise that he supported leaving the Confederate flag on the Georgia state flag when he was a state senator; so much for the feelings of African Americans (who, coincidentally, are disproportionately hurt by the Obamacare repeal).

Price and Ryan were prevented from carrying out their radical, ideological, unproven theories by President Obama. Now, their ideas have been narrowly approved by the House (AHCA) and sent to the Senate, a less extreme body. Of course, Hice voted for this bill. If he and other Tea Party congressmen from Georgia had voted against it, it would not have passed.

Currently, Trumpcare removes the prohibition against discriminating against pre-existing conditions, which hits those age 50–64 particularly hard. It lets insurance companies charge five times as much for sick old people versus the young, leading the AARP to label the bill “The Age Tax.”

According to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, it will result in 22–24 million people losing coverage. It will also give the wealthy a $600 billion tax break. As Trump said during the campaign, he thinks it is “smart” not to pay taxes (although his budget includes a substantial increase in military expenditures that the rest of us will pay for).

Now, the real question is, “What will the Senate and, eventually, Trump do?”

Trump advocated for single-payer many times in the past. He wrote a book in 2000 praising Canadian health care, their version of Medicare for All, and recently said the Australian single-payer system was much better than ours. He is correct.

Gallup studied the issue of efficiency in our health-care system. It found that our system was very inefficient. While failing to cover 30 million of us, the percentage of GNP devoted to health care rose from 9–18 percent over just a few decades.

Gallup pointed out that Europe’s single-payer systems had the leverage to control costs. All of Europe pays much less per capita than we do. Italy, for example, pays a third of what we do and has better morbidity and mortality rates.

If Trump (and the Senate) looks at the facts, the solution is clear: Phase in single payer here beginning with those 50–64. Obviously, Price is not the one to run DHHS and implement it.

Although the majority of House Democrats have already endorsed HB 676, “Medicare for all,” that is not the way it will go.

Trump has to placate the Tea Party extremists (the misnamed Freedom Caucus) who control policy decisions in the House. And most senators of both parties don’t want to talk about single payer, because it cuts profits of insurance companies and drug companies—big money contributors to their campaigns. So much for the “draining the swamp” campaign rhetoric.

If we end up with any repeal/replace law at all (which is doubtful, given the secretive nature of the Senate group putting together the supposed reform package), it will be a convoluted mess that few in the Senate or House even understand. But one thing is certain. If anything like the "mean,” as Trump called it, House version of Trumpcare is enacted, it will have far-reaching negative consequences for our health care.