For Senator Mazie Hirono, D–Hawaii, healthcare policy isn’t an abstract issue. It’s a very real reality. A few months ago she was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, which is why I wasn’t surprised to see her name pop up as one of the testifiers on the latest Republican attempt to destroy your healthcare.
It was 2pm on Monday, Sept. 25 (8am Hawaii time), and the protesters were chanting “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty!” over and over. The activists–many of whom were in wheelchairs–had crowded into a tiny hearing room meant to hold about 30 members of the public. The hearing, conducted by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, was the only one on the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill, which is the Senate’s latest attempt to throw the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into the trash can. It’s a product of Senate Republicans’ cynical decision to abandon bipartisan talks on crafting a new healthcare bill. After telling protesters to “shut up,” Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R–Utah, immediately went into recess for about 10 minutes while Capitol Hill police arrested the protesters.
Such is the state of that great bastion of debate known as the United States Senate. Here we are, many months now into a long, agonizing and ultimately unnecessary fight to obliterate whatever remains of Barack Obama’s presidency. Never mind that the ACA is popular and was (until President Donald Trump began undermining it) working well. Never mind that millions of Americans today finally have health insurance–not the same thing as proper health care, I know, but baby steps. Never mind that Senate Republicans have repeatedly failed to find even 50 votes to pass some sort of anti-ACA health care legislation.
But here we are. Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson is even worse than the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BRCA), which failed in the Senate a few months ago (as did a move to simply repeal the ACA). If you have pre-existing conditions, or if you’re a woman, the bill is especially harsh and unforgiving.
“This bill is an all-out assault on consumer protection,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D–Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, said after Hatch reconvened the hearing. “Hundreds of thousands of women aren’t going to see the doctor of their choice.”
Is this all Congressional Republicans can do anymore? Do they hope to ever do more than just play to the idiot Trump and the most racist, sexist portions of their base? Virtually every organization in the American healthcare industry opposes the dismantling of the ACA, and yet they refuse to stop. During his statement at the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham, R–South Carolina said his bill was necessary because the ACA was “collapsing.” He said his bill would finally return money to the states, so they could decide what’s best for people’s healthcare. Of course he left out that Trump himself is doing everything he can to undermine the ACA, and that it also gave money to the states, because why bother with facts now?
Which is why it was so refreshing to see Hirono testify. She spoke right after Graham, but her statement was profoundly different.
“It came as a total shock to me,” Hirono said of her recent cancer diagnosis. “This is how a lot of people learn about a serious illness.”
Hirono spoke extensively about the many individual acts of compassion that began after she told everyone about her diagnosis–from her Senate colleagues, constituents and just people she randomly encounters. She spoke about how important this compassion is in her recovery, and how horrible it is that there’s been so little compassion present in Republicans’ attempts to take away people’s health coverage.
“What we do as leaders should reflect compassion,” Hirono said. “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it.”
Hirono said Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson “undermines protections for close to 600,000 people in Hawaii” who have pre-existing conditions. She said the bill “punishes states like Hawaii who expanded Medicaid.” She said thousands of people in Hawaii would lose their insurance under this bill. She said that she has a “complicated illness,” and would reach the bill’s lifetime spending limits “in about a nanosecond.”
“The American people cannot trust this administration to do the right thing in regards to their healthcare,” Hirono said. “This bill would be devastating… millions of lives are at stake.”
Hirono ended her remarks by calling for a return to bipartisan negotiations on healthcare, saying the Senate “needs to focus on the people we’re elected to serve.”
It’s a wonderful thought, but the notion that would actually happen is as outlandish as the idea that Republicans really want to make healthcare better.
Photo of Sen. Hirono courtesy U.S. Senate