It's clearer than ever that the Senate health care bill isn't about saving lives. Is this the wake-up call America needs?
Back in 1963 when photos of black children in Birmingham, Alabama, being bitten by dogs and hosed with water cannons were published in newspapers around the globe, the United States could no longer hide the fight for racial equality from the world. The horrifying pictures made the nation take a long, hard look at itself and spurred President John Kennedy to take action.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Our lives and liberty shouldn’t be stolen to give a tax break to the wealthy."[/quote]
If the reaction on social media is any indication, the photos and video footage of disabled people in wheelchairs being dragged away from the office of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by Capitol police on Thursday could have the same impact on the American public and change the debate over the American Health Care Act.
The protest staged by ADAPT, a national community of grassroots disability rights activists, came on the day the Republican leadership in the Senate released its latest draft of their health care plan. The bill deepens the $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid that were proposed in the House version. The majority of Medicaid spending goes toward covering the care costs of people who are disabled, elderly, and poor. Without Medicaid, it’s not far-fetched to imagine someone’s grandma who is in a wheelchair and lives in a nursing home no longer being able to afford care.
Roughly 60 protesters staged the “die-in” outside McConnell’s office to show what they say will happen to people if health care is gutted. “The American Health Care Act caps and significantly cuts Medicaid which will greatly reduce access to medical care and home and community based services for elderly and disabled Americans who will either die or be forced into institutions,” Bruce Darling, an ADAPT organizer who participated in the protest said in a statement. “Our lives and liberty shouldn’t be stolen to give a tax break to the wealthy. That’s truly un-American.” Capitol police said that 43 people were arrested and charged with crowding and obstructing.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that at least 23 million Americans will lose health care if the American Health Care Act is passed. In a lengthy Facebook post on Thursday afternoon, President Barack Obama called for an end to the partisan bickering over health care and wrote that “The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.”
Obama went on to spell out the impact of the bill in stark terms.
“Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.
I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?”
Obama ended his post with a reminder that “this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country—who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that’s always worth fighting for.”
As Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Martin Luther King Jr. biographer Taylor Branch told Time in 2015, the images of those children in 1963 were “a big emotional turning point that’s still not widely analyzed, in part because it’s embarrassing to adults to say that it took these pictures to make us finally do something.” Perhaps footage from today of a woman in a wheelchair being arrested as she begs for her health care to not be cut will be the wake-up call America needs.