Bricks and Mortars

Zombiecare stalks the land

By Lawrence Reichard | Sep 29, 2017

Editor's note: This Bricks and Mortars column was written prior to Sen. Susan Collins' announcement she will not support the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.

By the time you read this, Donald Trump and the Republican Party may have already passed a Senate bill throwing 32 million people off health insurance rolls, thus increasing the total number of uninsured to 60 million, almost a fifth of the population.

Before this Zombiecare II bill, back when Zombiecare I stalked the land, the GOP goal wanted to toss a mere 20 to 23 million off the health insurance rolls. But now that ambitious goal has become an even more ambitious 32 million. This is indeed bold leadership.

But it's looking grim for the slash and burn party. Republicans Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky have already defected from Republican ranks on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. One more defection would doom GOP efforts to destroy the country's health care system.

Rand Paul will vote no because the bill doesn't eliminate health care for everyone but Rand Paul, and McCain has announced he will vote against the bill, though it's unclear whether this is out of principle or because it's another opportunity to stick it to Trump, who last year, in an act of rather fantastic political stupidity, took a completely gratuitous swipe at McCain's Vietnam War record.

That leaves Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine as the key, swing votes on Graham-Cassidy.

Murkowski is being wooed by GOP leadership with a slimy backroom deal that would temporarily ease the bill's pain for Alaska and then throw it overboard as it does everyone else. But like McCain, Murkowski might relish another opportunity to stick it to Trump, whose Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, thuggishly threatened Alaska with dire consequences if Murkowski didn't vote for Zombiecare I.

Collins is also being bribed by GOP leadership, but details are unavailable at press time.

With Zombiecare I, Collins showed considerable fortitude in voting against the crippling of American health care and the devastation of Maine's rural clinics and hospitals. But will she remain firm as the GOP tries again to ram through Zombiecare II?

Zombiecare II, like Zombiecare I before it, is being rammed through because polls consistently show deep public opposition to the bill's provisions. Under Sen. Mitch McConnell's enlightened leadership, there will be only 90 seconds of debate on the bill as currently structured. And no, that's not a typo — 90 seconds. That's apparently the GOP's idea of democracy. The bill is being rammed through so fast the Congressional Budget Office doesn't even have time to analyze it. Congress is monkeying with almost 20 percent of the economy without even knowing the facts.

As I have written before, Susan Collins has long been a poster child for the GOP's ever-shrinking "moderate" wing. And right behind her, ever eager to claim that mantel, is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, co-architect of Zombiecare II. And this is where Americans' tenuous and ever-dwindling grasp on health care may run into serious trouble, because Graham's co-authorship of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill gives Collins the cloak of "moderation" she needs to sell this disastrous bill to folks back home.

And if you think this bill doesn't concern you, think again.

Former Ohio congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has said the two functions of the federal government are to wage war and transfer wealth upward. And in the wealth-transfer campaign, waged largely with success for 35 years, Medicaid and Medicare have long been in the GOP's cross hairs.

Zombiecare II will destroy Medicaid, which provides health insurance to the poor and disabled; and if the GOP succeeds in destroying Medicaid, next will be Medicare, which provides health insurance to the elderly. And then it will be Social Security, the real kahuna, and a Wall Street pigout that would make the destruction of Medicare and Medicaid look like child's play.

So if you plan to get old some day, the fate of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill definitely concerns you.

But there's more, and it affects everyone. The bill guts or outright eliminates very popular provisions of Obamacare, first and foremost the requirement that insurers accept pre-existing conditions, and without higher premiums. Under Graham-Cassidy, states could allow insurers to charge higher rates for pre-existing conditions as long as states provide financial assistance to those with pre-existing conditions. But there are no standards for this, so one could face astronomical, completely unaffordable rates with negligible state help, a veritable death sentence for many. The stats on this are clear: Those without health insurance get inferior care and die younger.

Zombiecare II also lets states decide what if any care must be covered by health insurance, thus allowing a return to the bad old days when 75 percent of policies didn't cover maternity care, 45 percent didn't cover substance abuse, and 38 percent didn't cover mental health — all of which are mandated by Obamacare.

Lindsey Graham has been cynically bleating about giving states a voice when he knows damn well that states are much more vulnerable to corporate pressure than is the much larger and more powerful federal government — in fact that's the whole point.

Under Zombiecare II, states would receive block grants to fund Medicaid and they would be free to spend the grants as they wish. In Paul LePage's Maine, that probably means all funds would go to LePage's family, well-behaved Republican legislators, and former Republican legislator Robert Nutting's Medicare-feeding-trough pharmacy.

The block grants would start out well below current expenditures, would be capped at well below the expected rate of health care inflation, and would vanish entirely after 2026. Adios health care for millions of poor and disabled Americans.

And so it is that the outcome of this disastrous bill may rest with Maine's own Susan Collins. If the Senate hasn't yet voted, you can call Susan Collins' Washington office at (202) 224-2523. Together we killed Zombiecare I — it's now time to drive a stake through the heart of Zombiecare II.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.


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