Rushing toward disaster for a win?

  • Sunday, September 24, 2017 10:39pm
  • Opinion

The senior senator from South Carolina lost patience with the bipartisan work being done on health care, so he hurriedly sketched another repeal without replace or repair to the Affordable Care Act. After a show of exasperation, he and a quickly recruited co-sponsor began pushing his proposal, called Graham-Cassidy, to a vote by both the Senate and the House before Sept. 30. This approach to lawmaking without study, comment, or general participation is the reverse of how to develop good public policy.

The proposal is much worse than its failed predecessor, the destructive BCRA. Graham-Cassidy eliminates all protections for those with pre-existing conditions, opens the way to gutting essential health benefits (creating a patchwork of plans across the 50 states), ends Medicaid expansion, cuts Medicaid to below ACA levels, and repeals the individual mandate. This last provision is what all health care companies say will throw the insurance market into chaos and immediately raise the cost of health care by at least 20%. Known is that it will strip health care from tens of millions of people and tens of thousands in Alaska.

Another known: It will inflict another wound to Alaska’s economy. Our state just lost 4,800 more jobs. Now at 7.2 percent, Alaska’s unemployment rate is the highest in the country. With job losses already steeply worsening (more than 1 percent in just a month), Graham-Cassidy would add another major loss to Alaska’s economy by redistributing tens of millions of Alaska health care dollars to other states.

These are the very bad things already known about this proposed anti-health care bill. It is still to be examined by the Congressional Budget Office. That office has said it can present “an initial assessment” by early next week but would need longer to estimate the effects on an array of areas, such as the cost of individual policies. A full CBO report cannot be completed before Sept. 30, the self-imposed deadline to pass Graham-Cassidy. Why the desperate hurry? It can’t be to achieve good public policy because so much that is harmful is already known. Something else is at play — maybe something as simple as “winning one for the team.” Perhaps when the score has remained at zero for so long, the prospect of a win obscures all the harm it would do. Such a situation is addressed by the expression “Winning at any cost.”

A congressional rush to act is necessary when a threat to the nation is imminent or when relief from a natural disaster is needed. Rushing this proposed act, though, doesn’t protect or relieve. Rather, it creates a national threat to the health of millions of people. Further, it would create a disaster that without doubt will contribute to Alaska’s further economic decline. Alaska is no longer on a slippery economic slope. Now clearly in recession, Alaska is sliding toward economic depression. Graham-Cassidy would significantly increase the momentum.

All this harm is foreseen, but unlike unstoppable threats such as hurricanes, this threat can be stopped — by working to halt or voting against an immoderate, heedless, deeply damaging bill that will harm most states. No state, though, would be harmed more than Alaska.

Our senators know all this, but it can be reasonably supposed that the pressure is building to go along with the majority. So it doesn’t hurt to remind our senators and congressman that the people who elect them can see this potential disaster for our state and want them to stand up for Alaska against it.

• Art Petersen is a resident of Juneau and retired UAS faculty member.

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