U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spends a huge amount of time these days talking about “choices” in health care, and how he’s committed to ensuring you will have more of them.
Be it the choice to join the 24 million Americans estimated to lose coverage, or the choice to be kicked off or denied access to Medicaid, or the choice to rely on your cash-strapped state for assistance, instead of the federal government, there will be so many options for you to consider.
Should you lose your employer-based insurance, you’ll be faced with lots of choices, like the option to pay more for less coverage, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed and replaced with Trumpcare. On average, premiums would be expected to increase 15 to 20 percent in the next two years, predicts the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
There’s also the choice of going without health insurance altogether, looking instead to the local emergency room as a choice of last resort. That choice, of course, will result in the rest of us choosing to pick up the tab, in the form of higher costs for everyone.
The proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA), or Trumpcare, allots tax credits up to $4,000 to help low-income families purchase coverage, meaning that the most disadvantaged will be choosing how to purchase insurance with about 65 percent less in government subsidy, as currently offered.
But, as Price sees it, that provides choice — a choice not unlike how to care for grandmother when federal subsidies for Meals on Wheels are ended, or choosing how to feed the kids when free and reduced school lunch programs are suspended. So many choices.
Young women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health care, family planning, and cancer screening services will have the choice to find medical care elsewhere, and at much-higher cost, when Planned Parenthood is defunded under Trumpcare. If you’re an older adult, you’ll be choosing what in the world to do when insurance companies can charge you up to five times what younger people pay.
There will choices if you’re wealthy too, like how to spend the extra $37,000 in tax savings realized when Trumpcare is enacted. The super-rich — the top 0.1 percent — will be deciding how to spend an additional $207,000 in reduced taxes.
Every family will have choices. Lots of them.
“They’ll have choices that they can select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family,” Price says, a talking point he and others have been repeating endlessly.
It reminds me a lot of what an auto dealer once said to me. I could choose any car on the lot that would best suit me and my family, but only if I could pay for it and he was offering no vouchers. Yet SUVs and health care access are false equivalencies. The former is a nice thing to have; the latter is essential to being an evolved, equitable civil society.
Your life-saving cardiac bypass matters just as much as your neighbor’s chemotherapy, and your kid’s tonsillectomy is no more important than any other kid’s, because access to medical care is a basic human right, rooted in God’s commandments to love all, not a luxury parsed out only to those who can afford it.
“The AHCA is simply a complicated strategy to shift costs from the affluent to the less well off,” says Wendy Mariner, a lawyer and medical doctor, and a professor of health law at Boston University. “… It demands a complete repeal of assistance to those in need.”
Or, as the prophet Isaiah preached it nearly 3,000 years ago: “How terrible it will be for you who write laws that make life harder for other people. You take away the rights of the poor. You hold back what is fair for people who are suffering. You take for yourselves what belongs to widows. You rob children whose parents have died.”
All this new-found talk of “choices” is a mockery, a betrayal of Christian values, a scheme designed to lull the most vulnerable into supporting a health care law resulting in worse coverage for them, at greater personal expense, to the benefit of the wealthy who will continue to enjoy Cadillac care for less.
The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess is vice president of the United Church of Christ’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries.