The battle in Washington over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has taken a revealing turn in the last few days with members of the North Carolina congressional delegation playing major roles.
Much of the national coverage of the repeal efforts have focused on the behind the scenes negotiations among House Republicans, with President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan trying to come up with a plan to win over enough members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, headed by N.C. Congressman Mark Meadows, without losing too many votes of more moderate members.
The first version of their American Health Care Act that failed last month would have caused 24 million people to lose their health care coverage according to the Congressional Budget Office. That might have shocked many Americans and most moderate members of Congress, but ultimately was not the reason the bill failed.
Meadows and Freedom Caucus opposed the repeal legislation because it didn’t go far enough, replacing the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act with tax credits for many Americans and leaving many of essential benefits and protections against pre-existing benefits in place for people still able to afford coverage.
Meadows and Ryan and Trump have apparently gone back to the drawing board to make things worse to get more votes in the House.
The latest version of the GOP repeal effort would slash Medicaid and allow states to cover fewer essential services and to remove protections for people with cancer or heart disease or hypertension or any other preexisting health conditions.
And Meadows isn’t the only North Carolina member of Congress involved in the effort or at least he is not the only one defending it.
This week Rep. Robert Pittenger from Charlotte made headlines for suggesting that people with preexisting conditions could simply move to another state that might provide the coverage if their state does not.
Think about that for a second, a family with a child with brain cancer living in South Carolina, or North Carolina for that matter, might have to move to Oregon or New York to be able to take care of their son or daughter.
Never mind their jobs or their finances or the fact that no state could afford to become an insurer of last resort for the seriously ill. But that’s Pittenger’s solution for people with serious health care conditions, just pack up and move.
One of Pittenger’s colleagues in the House, Rep. Mo Brooks from Alabama went even further, telling CNN that the new version of the GOP health care plan would reduce costs for people “who lead good lives” and “have done things the right way” and don’t have preexisting conditions.
Apparently, Brooks believes it’s a child’s fault if he or she gets leukemia and a woman who develops breast cancer or a brain tumor is also to blame for her illness.
That is where the health care debate has gone in the last few weeks, or maybe where it has always been. It’s not about lifesaving care for millions of people across the country.
It’s about political ideology first. The Affordable Care Act was President Obama’s signature achievement so it must be repealed even though it is providing health care for tens of millions of people and the majority of Americans now support it and want it improved not repealed.
It is also about cutting taxes. The wealthiest Americans would receive a massive break under the repeal proposal. The top 1 percent would receive a tax cut of almost $40,000 a year while the top 0.1 percent, folks making $4 million a year, would get a break of $207,000.
Thanks to the public comments by Pittenger and Brooks this week, we also know what Republicans are willing to do in blind allegiance to that ideology.
Forcing 24 million people to lose their health care wasn’t enough for Meadows and the GOP lawmakers he leads.
Now the plan is to punish and blame even more people who need health care coverage.
Quite a revealing week indeed.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.