Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Trump Election, the ACA and health care in America: Not with a bang but a whimper

As you may have already heard, Donald J. Trump won the election and will be the next President. “The media”, from the mainstream to the left, have moved from excoriating him as a candidate with outrageous personal characteristics and terrifying policy proposals, to excoriating him as President-elect, with less emphasis on his personal characteristics and more on what future policy is likely to be. There is special and valid emphasis on the people who are his main advisors, right wing zealots like Steve Bannon, and the hawkish, sometimes completely out of touch with reality, group. 

There are many  post-hoc analyses of why Clinton lost – I recommend Naomi Klein’s discussion of neoliberalism -- and what the most scary aspects of a Trump presidency are. Regarding the latter the always-terrific Noam Chomsky’s interview on Truthout, firmly identifies global warming and climate change as the greatest threat to the continuation of the world. He emphasizes this threat by noting that 40% of Americans are not concerned about the long-term impact of global warming because they believe that Christ will return and the rapture will occur in the next several decades.

There will, certainly be many other major threats, some of which, like nuclear war, could end the world. After the election, I was reminded that T.S. Eliot wrote in The Hollow Men, “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper,” and yet the bang is not out of the question. In less apocalyptic, but just as serious terms, many people in America, whole populations, have real reason to be fearful. Obviously Muslims and “illegal immigrants” have been the victims of the most direct attacks by the President-elect and his advisors, and have a great deal to fear, but the list goes on to include Latinos who are here legally, citizens, members of other groups based on race/ethnicity (African-Americans) or other characteristics (LGBT). It includes women who may seek not only abortions but effective and available contraceptive care – and their partners. It affects all of us who value justice, diversity, peace, civil rights and civil liberties, opportunity, and freedom. We may see some irony in the last two, as they were clarion calls by many Trump supporters, but it has always been clear that for much of this group “freedom” was the freedom to do what they want (carry guns, practice their religion, etc.) and not any concept that would apply to everyone (be safe, have reproductive rights, practice their religion). Opportunity was always about the opportunity of some people to get ahead and not lose ground.

Many Trump supporters, but of course not those who are or will be in leadership in his administration, will be among those who suffer, because income and wealth will be major drivers of suffering, as they always have been. This is not to minimize the impact of race; as Dr. Camara Jones analyzes in her discussions of the “social determinants of equity”, class may be the final mediator of social, and especially health, disadvantage, but it does not explain why there are so many Black and other minority people in the lower class. Yes, surveys have shown that the bulk of Trump voters were white people in the “middle class” ($50,000-$90,000) range, but there were also many lower income whites. Indeed, while conservative ideologues in the Republican party railed against the ACA because it actually provided benefits to people in a “socialist” way, most voters who were hostile to it were motivated by (in addition to racism; it was after all “Obamacare”, named for our African-American President) the fact that premiums were going up to unaffordable levels, and the coverage that they received, when they got sick, was inadequate.

Of course, to be concerned about your premiums and deductibles and co-pays going up under the health insurance exchanges, you have to be covered by them. And, if we didn’t have “Obamacare”, you wouldn’t be covered at all, especially if you have a “pre-existing condition” or have to be paying a lot more if you could. Trump recently seem to be recognizing this, noting that there are popular as well as unpopular aspects of the ACA, and that junking the whole thing, as Republicans have voted to do dozens of times, might be a bad move. The things people like about ACA are that they can get coverage, that they can’t be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition, that there is “community rating” which means that they can’t be charged an especially high premium because they are sick, and that children can stay on their parents’ policies until 26. What they don’t like is high and increasing premiums, high deductibles, high co-pays, discovering the insurance that they could afford is lousy and doesn’t cover what they need and, in many cases, community rating, which means that if you are young and healthy you pay more.

Trump, in characteristic fashion, promises us we will only get rid of the bad parts, and keep the good parts, so the results will be terrific! Too bad President Obama didn’t think of that. Or me. Or that it isn’t possible within the constraints of the ACA. The ACA was designed to deal in insurance companies and their profits to a more-inclusive national health plan. This was the quid pro quo: we’ll do community rating and insure everyone regardless of pre-existing condition, you have to make everyone buy insurance (the “individual mandate”). But lots of healthy, and especially young, people are not buying insurance, gambling that they will stay healthy. If they get “caught” (and most don’t) the penalty is far less than the cost of the insurance. So they win. Until they lose. Of course, many who buy insurance get the lowest cost policy they can and then they really lose. And if they buy better coverage the insurance companies get mad. Much analysis of the history of ACA and its roots, as well as speculation about its future, is covered by Himmelstein and Woolhandler in this PNHP post.

And it doesn’t come at a good time. The Commonwealth Fund just released a report showing that Americans have more challenges in receiving needed health care than in 10 other rich countries. Well, it hasn’t been a good time for a while. This report just shows, basically, the same thing that Commonwealth and others have been reporting for years.

So what can we expect, as a nation, from a Trump administration? Well, there is odds-on betting that we will get a right-wing, anti-abortion, anti-reproductive rights Supreme Court. And, if not actually a wall, major deportations and harassment of immigrants. And real anti-Muslim activity. Hate crimes are already up, per the Southern Poverty Law Center, with really bad people feeling emboldened by the Trump rhetoric; we can only hope his Justice Department will prosecute these crimes at least as aggressively as they do immigrants. We will probably get more of the same in attacks by police on minorities, and especially on policies that enrich the richest and hurt the poor. We will get little or no action on climate change. And we will not get the jobs that have been lost back, whatever the President-elect promises.
Protests will continue, centered as they have been in the small islands of the nation that voted Democratic – and where most of the people in the US live. We need to be sure that the losses I describe above do not come easily, that we do not keep our heads down, that we make waves.

And, in healthcare, we probably will not get single payer, although this would solve the problem and allow Donald Trump to actual give us most of the good without most of the bad. If he would only.

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