Rob Portman

^ thank goodness for Ohio politicians : Senator Rob Portman, like Governor John Kasich, opposes the Senate health care bill, whose Medicaid cuts would seriously impact a state ravaged by the nation’s worst opioid epidemic

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Social media has made the above phrase a vital part of conversation vocabulary. Written usually as “SMDH,” it captures the absurdity of what is going on in Congress right now, the attempt by many Republican Senators to 3nqact a bill that purports to be about health care but isn’t, really, and that is offered as an improvement when instead it’s, well, an absurdity.

What can one say about a “health care bill” that only about 17 percent of the voters support; that — according to the Congressional Budget Office — would strip health insurance from about 22,000,000 of us; that would balloon premiums for many of the rest of us; and that gives tax relief to those who don’t need it ? What in tarnation is going on here ?

Governor Baker, who firmly opposes said bill, says that if enacted it would cost Massachusetts about $ 8 billion over the next ten years, as we struggle to revise our own state health care system to compensate for loss of Medicaid funding. No surprise that every member of our state’s Congressional delegation opposes the bill along with Baker. But what of Senators and Congress-people from other states ? Why does this bill have almost (but not quite, thank goodness)  enough support to be enacted ?

The Senate bill proposes to shrink Medicaid funding by about $ 721 billion over 10 years. Why ? To what end ? Medicaid is the federally funded, state-administered health care insurance system that covers about 40 percent of America’s children and almost all adults of low income. Is there some reason why these should not have the taxpayer support necessary to assure them the same health care taken for granted by we who can afford the premiums ? Without health insurance, people cannot receive health care except in emergency rooms — the full cost of which is paid by tax dollars; so, why must people who can’t afford insurance have no access to care except in emergencies ? Doctors will not see an uninsured person unless she can afford fee for service — the most expensive option by far. Yet in the Senate bill, fee for service is the preferred option, as it renders the cost of insurance so high as to equal, or surpass, that of fee for service.

The arguments I have heard from those Senators who actually like the bill sound like Charles Dickens’s London, 1850 : “it’s time to restore personal responsibility to the health care market,” say some. Or, “those who need Medicaid can always get jobs.” Others decry taxpayers having to pay for women’s reproductive health — as being a woman is somehow wrong. What the blazes are these Senators thinking ? Presumably they want to be re-elected ? How can they be re-elected if they advocate a health care bill this damaging to so many voters ? Their actions contradict every law of election, and yet they seem oblivious to the absurdity of it all.

For now, the Senate bill lacks votes to pass it. Yet the House, which began with the same impasse, fairly soon thereafter passed an even more damaging bill. The Senate probably won’t follow suit. It’s a lot harder for a Senator to hide than for a Congress-person. And if the Senate bill fails, and the House bill cannot gain even a hearing in the Senate, the Congress will have wasted almost six months spinning fake yarn. The voters se the absurdity of it all and seem poised — maybe — to overturn this Congress at the mid-term elections. But why are we at this juncture at all ? Can we please elect a Congress that will enact legislation that the voters actually want ? Here I think not only of health care reform (maybe single payer — expanding Medicare and Medicaid to cover everyone — or perhaps improvements to the current health care system, but also of these : (1) immigration reform, including some form, of path to citizenship for the millions who live here without sanction; ( 2 ) universal background checks for guns and ammunition purchases, supported by more than 90 percent of voters; ( 3 ) a revised Voting Rights Act that restores Federal monitoring of voting in jurisdictions where denial of vote rights is a current situation;  ( 4 ) some increase to the Federal minimum wage, which remains locked at $ 7.25; and ( 5 ) a major Infrastructure bill.

None of my list of six reforms is very controversial. All have overwhelming public support., Why can’t a Congress elected by the people who support these reforms enact them ? I can think of several answers to my question — every one of them indefensible and absurd.

Which is why I am SMDH, shaking my damn head.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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