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Friday, June 30, 2017

Health care reform: First, do no harm

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 9:05 AM

click to enlarge On health care reform, Sen. Bill Cassidy, a physician, appears genuinely torn between his conscience and his political party. - PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/CREATIVE COMMONS
  • On health care reform, Sen. Bill Cassidy, a physician, appears genuinely torn between his conscience and his political party.

Louisiana’s Republican U.S. Sens. John Neely Kennedy and Bill Cassidy soon must decide how they want to be remembered by future generations: as partisan hacks who put their party ahead of their constituents, or as courageous independents who sought to end America’s bitter political divide.

That’s what’s at stake when the two men vote on the GOP’s latest health care reform bill. Ultimately, the decision both men must make is whose interests they serve — their constituents or those who pour money into their campaign war chests.

In most instances, that’s an easy call: They follow the money, because voters don’t pay attention to most bills. That’s not the case with health care reform, which dominates all political discussion. The fight to establish and preserve universal coverage has become the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century, dividing us along lines of race, economic class and party.

The fact that America’s first major step toward universal health care in nearly half a century came at the hand of America’s first black president is not lost on anyone, particularly the GOP ideologues who have used “Obamacare” as a dog whistle for years.

Don’t get me wrong: The Affordable Care Act needs fixing; but replacing it with something that’s much, much worse is not the solution.

Equally obvious but by no means universally recognized is the fact that the GOP’s version of health care reform would deprive millions of Americans of health insurance in less than 10 years, immediately give major tax breaks to America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations, and drive up health care costs to states like Louisiana — because it would transfer much of the cost of treating the working poor to the states. In Louisiana, it likely would force the closure of public hospitals such as those where Cassidy, a physician, practiced medicine before entering politics.

So the question Kennedy and Cassidy must answer is “Whom do you represent?”

It appears Kennedy is inextricably in the thrall of the GOP’s right wing, his world-class education notwithstanding. The more moderate Cassidy, on the other hand, appears genuinely torn between his conscience (including physicians’ legendary oath to “first, do no harm”) and his political party.

To his credit, Cassidy has pledged not to support any bill that fails the “Jimmy Kimmel test” in terms of adequate coverage for all (as Donald Trump promised during the campaign). Cassidy also joined fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to introduce the Patient Freedom Act of 2017. Their bill, which would provide transparency on health care prices, has been ignored by the Senate’s GOP leadership.

Given the Senate’s slim, two-vote GOP majority, Cassidy could influence the future of American health care policy not only because he is a physician but also because he has at times shown the courage to speak the truth, even when truth doesn’t serve the interests of his party. I wish I could say the same of Kennedy.

Both men will cast their votes soon. Will Dr. Cassidy do no harm, or will he follow the money? His decision, like senators’ votes on civil rights bills in the 1960s, will determine how future generations remember him.

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