Thursday’s vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that passed by a four-vote margin in the U.S. House of Representatives further exposed a growing empathy gap between the majority of House Republicans and the tangible realities of their constituents. The bill would strip at least 24 million people of their health insurance. The ACHA also “turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if I choose… and slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years,” according to the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman.
It would be useful for members of Congress to actually experience what it is like to need medical attention and not have access to health care services. It is unlikely that they would be so nonchalant about taking away health care coverage from millions of Americans if they had to go without it themselves. An empathy deficit is likely what led them to cast the vote that they did on Thursday.
This empathy gap was exemplified in the remarks of GOP House Member Raul Labrador of Idaho when he said on Friday that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” Labrador and other members of Congress should feel that sense of desperation that millions of uninsured families feel when they need medical services but are denied access.
It is unlikely that they would be so nonchalant about taking away health care coverage from millions of Americans if they had to go without it themselves.
Hopefully, the citizens who actually need health care will wake up and call their Senators in an effort to make sure that the AHCA does not pass the Senate. Pressure must be placed on Senators to realize what is at stake and ensure that they have health care coverage for their families. Even a significant number of those who get health insurance through their employers are just one layoff away from not having access to coverage.
It is difficult to continue to make sense of why people would continually support politicians who vote against their material self-interests. The elephant in the room that people seem to not want to address is that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that they know little about because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is attached to President Barack Obama.
The fact that the Affordable Care Act was nicknamed “Obamacare” is likely to be the determining factor as to whether or not people support the ACA. They may feel that erasing “Obamacare” will erase his Presidency as we know it. Many opponents of the ACA actually agree with many of the core principles of the bill but refuse to support it nonetheless.
Also troubling is the fact that the 13-member group of Republican Senators who will be drafting the Senate’s version of the plan is a committee made up exclusively of White males. It is striking that in addition to having no people of color, there are also no women. The proposed changes to the ACA will have a big impact on women’s health, but they are not represented at all in this group. The selection of this committee is a completely tone-deaf move that not only presents bad optics but is completely inappropriate.
At some point, one’s livelihood has to take priority over feelings of political gamesmanship. The Republican members of the Senate need to be reminded of how people feel when they need to get to a doctor but don’t have the healthcare coverage. If this empathy gap is not bridged soon, the consequences will be devastating. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren outlined the stakes well in a recent tweet when she wrote that “this isn’t football. It’s not about scoring points. ACHA will devastate Americans’ health care. Families will go bankrupt. People will die.”
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is a Scholar and Activist