Since November 8, there has been endless soul searching and debate on the left and in the Democratic Party about what went wrong in the presidential election. The post-mortems continue in the blogosphere, on countless Facebook pages, and in thousands of one-on-one discussions. Meanwhile, the victorious Republicans are moving ahead fast with a clearly defined 2017 agenda, and the Congressional majorities and new administration necessary to implement it.
How to respond to that upcoming threat is now a more pressing question than “what went wrong” last fall. Fortunately for the left—often plagued by infighting over priorities, ideology, and tactics—Republicans in the new Congress and the Trump administration are providing the answer for us. In the face of an all-out assault on the social infrastructure that has supported poor, working, and middle class Americans for over fifty years, our task is clear. We must unify across organizations—social and racial justice, environmental, labor, faith, and civil rights—to resist and offer an alternative to the Republican agenda of deregulation, privatization, corporate welfare, xenophobia, and racism.
Republican Congressional leaders and President-elect Trump have identified health care as a majority priority. Trump’s proposed Health and Human Services Secretary—House member Tom Price—and other Capitol Hill foes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) plan to resurrect House Speaker Paul Ryan’s 2011 plan for a Medicare voucher system and other proposals to restructure Medicaid, repeal the ACA, and privatize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
If successful, these efforts will jeopardize health care coverage for millions of Americans—disproportionately seniors, people of color, single parents, veterans, disability insurance beneficiaries, lower income workers, and the unemployed. Moreover, the Republican plan will put even more of the funding burden for social safety net programs onto already overstretched state budgets.
(See http://khn.org/news/millions-could-lose-medicaid-coverage-under-trump-plan/ for projections about the impact of this policy shift.)
But what should really inspire us to act now is the tangible human impact of Trump’s health care agenda on our friends, neighbors, family and fellow community members. For example, as a former VHA nurse who now works with a senior patient population, I have countless patients who depend on Medicare (and/or Medicaid) to pay for their primary care visits, hospitalizations, post-hospitalization rehab stays, home care services, and needed medications. Most of these patients will also only be able to transition to long-term care facilities, if eventually needed, though Medicaid financing. Even under our existing system, many of my patients already have to choose between paying for medication co-pays today and groceries tomorrow, and, if the Republicans have their way, millions more Americans—of all ages—will find themselves weighing similar and even more dire choices.
The situation of my older patients in Vermont is not unusual. Ask any elderly relative of your own how they pay for their healthcare. Or speak to a low-income friend who depends on Medicaid to cover medical services for his or her self and/or children. Or, if you are one of the dwindling number of lucky Americans with employer-based insurance, just ask yourself what you would do tomorrow if you suddenly could not pay your co-pay at the pharmacy or afford an urgent care appointment to treat an illness that has sidelined you from work for days.
Clearly, reduced access to high-quality health care will impact all of us—whether personally or through the experience of those we love. Additionally, rollback of the small gains the ACA did achieve and restructuring of Medicare and Medicaid, will leave state and local governments (and only those state governments with leadership that actually cares about older and lower income residents) scrambling to plug the holes in health care’s sinking ship. This means less money for other pressing needs like public education, infrastructure repair, and efforts to address the climate change crisis.
In Vermont and New Hampshire, working families have won important victories in recent years. We can’t allow the Republicans’ crusade against health care, public institutions, and the environment to reverse these gains and endanger our quality of life. On January 15, in both Vermont and New Hampshire, we have our first opportunity to demonstrate our collective resistance during a national day of action led by Senator Bernie Sanders to “Save Health Care.”
This will only be the initial step in our fight, but, even before Trump takes office, we need to stand together in our neighborhoods, our towns, throughout the state, and across state lines to protect our physical health and the health of our communities.
Jessica Early is a Rights and Democracy Member and nurse in Burlington, Vermont.
RSVP: To the January 15 Vermont event here: http://www.radvt.org/save_health_care