Spencer Rendahl: Health Care Promises

May 9, 2017

When my son and daughter look at their baby albums, they see pictures of themselves bundled in blankets alongside other mementos that most kids don’t have – like electrodes that attached to their chests and lead wires connecting them to computers that measured every heart beat and breath for weeks, and tubes used to feed them.

Both my kids – born four years apart – faced life-threatening illnesses and spent weeks in the hospital after their births. We paid big bills for their much bigger than average medical needs. But with health insurance we weren’t denied treatment - or forced into bankruptcy for their care.

I thought of this when I saw late night comedy host Jimmy Kimmel’s impassioned speech on TV last week about his son’s emergency open heart surgery, performed just hours after his birth.

“We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world. But until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare - which provided subsidies for those on lower incomes and eliminated insurance denials for preexisting conditions and lifetime spending caps for medical care. “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”

Kimmel’s monologue came a few days before the Republican-led House of Representatives passed American Health Care Act, a bill similar to a version that failed in March that would have stripped Americans of most of those protections. The Congressional Budget Office had determined that twenty four million people would lose insurance with the March bill but didn’t have a chance to review the new bill before last week’s vote.

Every major medical association in the country has spoken out against the ACHA, in part because if it becomes law, among other things, the ACHA would scale back Medicaid, which provides healthcare to the poorest Americans and allow states to opt-out of many current guarantees. Coverage for people with preexisting conditions – like Kimmel’s son and my kids – would likely become expensive enough to be prohibitive.

President Trump talked about reforming healthcare on the campaign trail, promising better and cheaper plans with no loss of coverage. What the House just passed – and the president celebrated – falls far short of that promise.