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Republican Leaders Celebrate Millions Losing Health Care

Algernon Austin

Thousands of Americans will die because of an attack on Obamacare in the Republican tax cut bill. This is the conclusion of the economist Lawrence Summers, based on a review of the scholarly research on the impact of not having health insurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican tax bill will cause 13 million Americans to lose health insurance, because it removes the health-insurance-coverage mandate. While Summers has focused on the most extreme health consequence of the repeal of the mandate, there are many other negative consequences from this provision. Many of the newly-uninsured millions will suffer financially when they become sick or are injured. They will lose substantial portions of the wealth they have. Some will lose social ties and suffer psychologically because their worse health outcomes will lower their mobility and well-being. Among the many things that make the tax bill, arguably, one of the worst pieces of legislation in a generation is how it harms America’s public health.

For decades, U.S. life expectancy increased with each passing year—but not over the past 2 years. Driven largely by opioid drug overdoses, U.S. life expectancy declined over the last 2 years. To address this crisis we need more Americans covered by health insurance, not fewer. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has helped many addicts receive treatment and retake control of their lives. Without the health-insurance mandate, experts worry that some low-income drug addicts will not learn that they are eligible for Medicaid and that Medicaid can pay for treatment for their addiction. And now that Republicans in Congress have massively cut taxes for the rich, they are eyeing cutting programs for the needy—including Medicaid. Republicans seem determined to make the opioid crisis worse and to speed the decline in U.S. life expectancy.

Would you choose to provide health insurance for low-income children or give tax cuts to millionaires? Faced with this decision, the Republicans in Congress chose millionaires. Congressional Republicans let funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expire. Although they have voted to add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. debt to pay for tax cuts for the rich, they are not sure we can afford the $15 billion CHIP needs. As the economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, if they simply canceled their expansion of the estate tax exemption for millionaires, they could completely pay for CHIP.

Last month, Republicans in Congress joined President Donald Trump at the White House to celebrate the passage of the GOP tax bill. After Trump stated that “we essentially repealed Obamacare because we got rid of the individual mandate,” Republican leaders applauded. This provision in the tax bill will cause millions of Americans to lose health insurance, it will cause health insurance costs to increase by 10 percent for individuals, and many thousands of Americans will be sicker or die as a result. What is there to applaud here?