We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Every July 4th, Americans come together to celebrate the promise of our Declaration of Independence. We know for millions of Americans our nation has never fully lived up to that creed, but for all who still believe in the American ideal this has never been a reason to give up. Instead in every generation a new group of women and men and youths and even children have come forward to do their part in pushing America closer to its full promise. The current administration and Congress show how far we still have to go.
In his inspiring speech at the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that was why we were all there: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as White men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ … We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
On this July 4th we are once again fighting to protect basic human rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for tens of millions of vulnerable children and adults in our country and protesting the moral bankruptcy of Senate Republican leaders and our President.
In a country that says it values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, how can any of our leaders of any political party or ideology propose actions to slash health care for tens of millions of the neediest in order to give tax cuts to the extremely non-needy wealthy, favoring millionaires over mothers, billionaires over babies, and powerful corporations already garnering huge sums in government subsidies over children? That is what the Senate version of the already obscenely unjust House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) would do. Crafted in secret by 13 White men without a single hearing, the Senate health bill that purports to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) actually caps and cuts Medicaid — an indispensable lifeline that has served America’s most vulnerable children, mothers giving birth, people with disabilities and vulnerable elderly well for more than 50 years. But in a representative democracy like ours, the people elect members of Congress to represent us and be our voice.
As members of the Senate head home to their districts for their July 4th recess it’s up to us to fulfill our democratic duty and make sure our voices are heard and make sure our senators fulfill their democratic duty to protect all their constituencies and not just those who make campaign contributions to them or their political party.
Here are five of the many ways the Senate’s misleadingly and wrongly named “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BCRA), more appropriately named the “Worse Care Reconciliation Act,” harms children, offers worse care and makes us question the moral judgment of our Senate leaders:
* Ends Medicaid as we know it, jeopardizing the health of 40 percent of America’s children. Medicaid currently ensures comprehensive, affordable health coverage for 37 million low-income and disabled children, including 40 percent of all children with special health care needs, and covers more than 40 percent of all births. Who is going to meet this huge need if Medicaid crumbles? The BCRA would fundamentally restructure Medicaid, cap federal funds to states and end our nation’s half century long commitment to guarantee health coverage for the most vulnerable, placing tens of millions of children and other vulnerable populations — those with disabilities and the elderly — at great risk. It is astonishing to me that the Senate majority leader would vote to see the number of uninsured children and non-elderly adults in Kentucky rise by more than half a million in 2022 — a 231 percent increase, the third highest increase in the nation, according to an Urban Institute analysis. And that number does not include the elderly being cared for at home or in nursing homes whose health needs will be undermined.
* Slashes $772 billion in Medicaid to give tax cuts to wealthy individuals and powerful corporations, placing the interests of those who need help the most below those who need no government assistance. The 400 highest income taxpayers alone would receive tax cuts worth about $33 billion over 10 years. Millionaires would get tax cuts exceeding $50,000 a year. The Senate bill would cut $100 billion in taxes for drug companies and health insurers. The Senate should keep the tax increases originally included in the ACA to pay for expanded health care for children and adults, and take tax cuts and cuts to Medicaid — the popular, efficient safety net program that is a lifeline for tens of millions — off the dismantling and slashing table entirely.
* Makes at least 22 million more Americans uninsured, 15 million from Medicaid alone. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 15 million people would become uninsured in 2018 and a total of 22 million people would be added to the ranks of the uninsured by 2026. The CBO concludes this bill alone would result in a 26 percent reduction in Medicaid funding over 10 years and grow to a 35 percent reduction by the end of the next 10 years as the cap on funding tightens.
* Severely restricts Medicaid dollars that now help disabled children and adults remain at home, in communities and out of institutions and help schools and child protection agencies better meet children’s needs. I assume every senator would want his or her own child or disabled family member to live at home rather than in a hospital or institution, and would want a guarantee that they would get the care they need in school, and if they need foster care could get services to help reunify their family as quickly as possible. Instead, this cruel and unjust bill offers other people’s children and adults with disabilities worse rather than better care. As states’ fiscal pressures grow from budget gaps caused by the massive Medicaid cost shift, states will be much less likely to continue offering home and community-based waivers for disabled children and adults and are less likely to be able to provide funds to schools and child protection agencies to help provide services and specialized staff for our most vulnerable children.
* Leaves millions of Americans paying more for less health care. Premiums, deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing will dramatically raise costs, particularly for older and sicker people, and at the same time states will be allowed to limit coverage for essential health benefits such as maternity and pediatric care, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and habilitative care. The CBO estimates that half of the population will face more limited benefits and have access to critical services undermined and again face annual and lifetime limits on coverage. This will severely restrict coverage for children and adults with disabilities and pre-existing conditions.
Good health in our country with the biggest economy in the world should be a right and not a privilege for all and not just for the wealthy. Every life is sacred and of equal value. I agree with Dr. King that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”
So please stand up and make your voice heard in no uncertain terms. Be as loud and as persistent as you can until your leaders do the right thing for all their constituents and all in America. Make yourself heard during this July 4th Congressional recess (before they return to Washington the week of July 10th). Demand that your senators reject the cruel and unjust “Worse Care” Reconciliation Act. Ask them to do for your children and family members what they enjoy at taxpayers’ expense for their own children and family members.
Your voices have already made a difference. Recent national polls show fewer than one in five people approve of the Senate bill. But keep going and increase the pressure on anyone seeking to wipe out the health protections everyone in America needs and deserves.
Make a loud noise at 4th of July parades. Visit or call senators’ state offices. Join other allies for a healthy America in town hall meetings and other forums. This is a life and death struggle for millions of people of all ages about who we are and what we value as a nation. If you believe that children’s lives are as important as corporate profits and babies’ and mothers’ chances to be healthy are as important as billionaires and millionaires, stand up and be heard. Do not be fooled by the alternative and fake name of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. It’s a Trojan horse — rotten to the core. No amount of tinkering can fix it. Urge your senators to step up to #ProtectMedicaid and all generations from health injustice.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.