banner by Khusbu Patel

Be the People: American Politics and Healthcare

by Ripal Sheth

In 2009, Frank lost his job. Following his unemployment, Frank decided not to pursue private insurance so that he could continue to afford child care for his daughter. A few weeks later, Frank severed his thumb and index finger, resulting in the loss of not only his finger, but also the loss of a financially crippling $20,000 in medical expenses. Because of this tragedy, Frank could not find a job as his line of work required use of both hands.  His life continued in a rapid downward spiral, eventually ending in foreclosure of Frank’s home. Frank lost everything. Unfortunately, Frank’s story is not unique. Every year, two million Americans file bankruptcies due to unpaid medical bills.

There are various factors, such as technological advances and lack of true market forces that influence the ever increasing spending on health care in America. That being said, there is a general consensus that the fundamental flaws within the current health care system are causing many people to be placed in financially tolling situations. In 2010, former President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mainly aimed at substantially expanding health care coverage throughout America. As with any law, the ACA had its successes and its flaws. During President Trump’s campaign, he made known his thoughts regarding the ACA and promised to repeal and replace it. In fact, it was one of the first matters that the Trump administration addressed.

The administration began by issuing an executive order to rollback aspects of the ACA. Soon, a bill to replace the ACA was introduced by House Republicans, and by May was passed with a vote of 217-213. In July, the Senate failed to pass the bill meant to repeal the ACA, which meant the bill never reached the President’s desk. Bipartisan efforts were redoubled. In fact the Graham-Cassidy bill was recently introduced to the Senate as a bipartisan effort to reach a consensus about healthcare. Unlike the previous Senate bill, some parts of the ACA were taken out, such as the elimination of the individual and employer mandate, but some aspects were kept or modified to allow Democratic support for the bill. In addition, in order to get certain senators’ support, funding was increased to certain states. This bill failed on September 30, 2017.

Regardless of political affiliation, there is no doubt that there are some fundamental flaws within our legislative system. In regards to health care, our Congressmen and Congresswomen are more focused on the financial success of the insurance companies rather than providing accessible care to patients. Groups such as the Problem Solvers Caucus who are dedicated in their pursuit of encouraging Republicans and Democrats to work together have proposed to shift the health care debate towards lowering insurance premiums and stabilizing the health care market. These groups are unfortunately shadowed by the majority of Congress, who are too focused on advancing their own political agenda and are neglecting their jobs: creating legislation that everyone can agree with. Although the legislative process was primarily designed to prevent rash decisions and prevent a single party from gaining too much power, it currently is the norm to expect Congress to be unproductive. Congressmen and Congresswomen continually fall short in performance of their duties.

The acceptance of the status quo is what perpetuates this cycle of unproductivity and this lack of a Congressional driving force is the main reason why progress is not being made in terms of creating a revised,  bipartisan health care bill. However, creating a bipartisan agreement is essential for the well-being of millions of American citizens.  The people impacted by these negotiations could be your mother or father or grandpa or grandma who could be faced with a medical crisis. You would hope that your last worry is how you are going to pay for treatment. Yet, for millions of Americans, their first worry involves financial ruin, not health. That is twisted.

Unfortunately, the fundamental problem is a societal one. Too many of us are apathetic to the decisions that our Congressmen and Congresswomen are making. We have the fundamental inability to hold the people we elected accountable. Yet ironically, we are the ones that give them the authority to represent our views in the first place.

The solution is obvious. It starts with an informed vote. Simply voting for the person you have seen in office for the past 20 years is not enough. It is essential to look into the policies of our Congressmen and Congresswomen and ask ourselves if we truly agree with their ideologies. If not, turn to other candidates. If there are no other candidates, our voices must be heard. We need to tell our stories and reasons for desiring change in both policies and practice. And if they do not listen, they will not gain our supporting vote.

It’s definitely easier said than done. Taking time out of busy schedules to do something as trivial as informing ourselves about legislative practices seems like added, unnecessary work. However, it’s easy to forget that civic duty is a privilege that is granted to Americans, and in order for real progress to be made, we have to fulfill that civic duty. So, before we say “We the people”, we must “Be the people.”