A rare and startling event happened in politics the other day.
A well-known conservative Republican spoke out against the GOP’s proposed healthcare plan because of humanitarian concerns, of all things:
“Too many of my constituents will lose insurance, and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their healthcare.”
This open display of what appears to be compassion comes from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who, in a long career, has seldom bucked the party leadership.
Yet now she’s taking sides against House Speaker Paul Ryan as he pressures members to hastily approve the hastily cobbled American Health Care Act, his leaky replacement for Obamacare.
Ryan needs Ros-Lehtinen’s vote in Washington, but she’s got a big problem back home. As of January, the congressional district she represents had more people enrolled in Obamacare than any other in the nation, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Republicans’ replacement bill would hammer seniors and low-income families, resulting in thousands of Ros-Lehtinen’s constituents losing insurance coverage because they could no longer afford it.
Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — whose projections are usually cheered by fiscal conservatives — predicted the GOP plan would pitch 14 million insured Americans into the ranks of the uninsured, a number that could soar to 24 million over the next decade.
Florida would be among the worst-hit states. The CBO said most of the 1.7 million Floridians now enrolled in Obamacare wouldn’t be able to pay for health insurance under the new plan.
And those covered by Medicaid — about 4.3 million low-income elderly and disabled people, as well as children and pregnant women — would face reduced access to medical services and specialized care.
As devastating as this could be for patients, it could also be unhealthy for the politicians who promised to look out for them.
Critics of Ros-Lehtinen aren’t applauding her for standing up to Ryan. They note that over the last seven years she voted again and again to repeal Obamacare, when she and her fellow Republicans had no plan whatsoever to put in its place.
That’s true. Still it’s worth mentioning that those repeal votes were purely for show and were cast with the certain knowledge that any bill that got passed wouldn’t survive a presidential veto.
But now, with Barack Obama gone and Donald Trump in the White House, Ros-Lehtinen and other Republicans must confront this heavy new thing called responsibility.
They control both the House and the Senate, and whatever health plan they devise will be signed into law by Trump and affect many millions of lives.
The plan on the table is a cruel and hectic mess. For instance, the proposed per-person cap on Medicaid would force patients with ongoing high expenses to seek assistance from the state where they live.
Because states have less money, the chronically ill would end up competing for medical funds with ailing senior citizens and sick children. If you don’t like the term “death panel,” call it a morbid lottery.
Another gem: Under Obamacare, a 64-year-old man making $26,500 a year pays $1,700 for medical insurance. Under the Ryan plan, the same man’s annual premium could shoot as high as $14,600.
His only choice is to drop the health coverage and try to hang on for a year, until Medicare kicks in.
Not everyone suffers under the GOP’s plan. The members at Mar-a-Lago will be toasting a hefty tax cut that’s been promised to affluent Americans, many of whom have private insurance, anyway.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable folks will be marooned. Many will get sicker and die because they’ll no longer have affordable access to thorough medical care.
The dead ones won’t be voting anymore, but their family members will. So will plenty of sick people who’ve lost their insurance.
This would be the nightmare scenario for Republicans in 2018.
Yet many of them in Congress actually say the Ryan plan isn’t too harsh, it’s too generous, too much like Obamacare. Obviously they view cancer and Alzheimer’s not as fightable diseases but rather as natural selection, at least for the poor, disabled and aged.
It wasn’t easy for Ros-Lehtinen to break from the coldblooded party line and introduce some caring and humanity into the GOP’s healthcare debate.
While invisibles like Marco Rubio pretend to ponder and mull, Ros-Lehtinen is doing the brave thing by speaking up for those who can’t write a big campaign check, those at the greatest risk.
In other words, she’s doing her job. What a concept.