This week saw many political happenings worth writing about, each of which will fill many a political column. There was the Georgia Governor’s signing a new law allowing “concealed carry” permit holders to carry their guns onto all public colleges and universities, whether students, faculty, or visitors. There was the resounding defeat in France of a politician whose platform centered on making her country great again, on rejecting multinational solutions to crises, on cracking down on immigrants and especially Muslim immigrants. There was the federal funding bill that did not “Build the Wall” or defund Planned Parenthood or cut funding for scientific research. But most importantly, there was the passage in the House of Representatives of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which if enacted in the Senate and signed by the President would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something much less.
This column has more than once addressed four themes central to the religions most of us declare that we support: feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, caring for our planet, and healing the sick. Revisiting that last one, how well are our elected leaders doing to ensure we as a society heal the sick?
One of the original purposes of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was to expand Medicaid to provide coverage to individuals and families with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Following a Supreme Court review this Medicaid expansion became optional; several states, including South Carolina, chose to opt out. All federal taxpayers paid the additional cost, but only some states’ poor received the additional benefit. The AHCA now prohibits further expansion of that benefit; its funding is to be zeroed out.
There is a question, the benefit to whom? The answer is to those who are poor, but not so poor as to qualify for Medicaid. Absent Obamacare, these working people too often had to choose whether to pay for food, shelter, and clothing on the one hand, or for some medical insurance on the other. Disposable income is not a concept for such families. Their children are in public schools, because we as a society rightly consider education to be a “free” benefit not requiring an additional fee that some could not afford. We reason that public education benefits all of us: we are all better off when the children of poor families are educated. And yet we apparently don’t see it the same way, when talking about their physical health. We don’t note that we are better off at the store if the people shopping with us are healthy, not to mention the clerks who check our groceries, many of whom qualify as “working poor.”
Several national churches have joined the AARP, the American Medical Association and other organizations in opposing the draft AHCA. It is now up to the Senate to decide. Will we continue to be a society whose core values include feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, caring for our planet, and, yes, healing the sick? Let us all hope that the answer is “yes.”