There is a much disputed quote that goes something like this, “the true measure of a civilization can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.” Many believe these were the words of Mahatma Gandhi, but there is little evidence that he ever wrote or uttered them. Regardless of the origin of this assessment, the meaning and importance behind it cannot be denied. Rings true for the Affordable Care Act.
This idea goes back as far as civilization itself and exists throughout our cultural mythology. When we think of the story of Robin Hood, it is not Prince John, who systematically mistreats those less fortunate in order to gain riches for himself who is the hero. Rather it is Robin Hood, who takes from the coffers of the rich to help the poor. This concept of the “good guy” going out of his way to protect those less fortunate and less powerful is so widely used across all of literature and film as to be a trope in itself. Yet here we are in 2017, watching from the sidelines as a cabinet and congress of King Johns aim to trample the most vulnerable among us in order to achieve some measure of personal gain.
Let me tell you a true story. It may be hard to hear but it is an important reminder about why we are again at a critical moment when it comes to healthcare in this nation. In 2009, a baby boy was born in the southern part of the US. At birth, this child suffered from a severe and life threatening Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). Every year nearly 40,000 babies are born with a CHD, a number that equates to almost one in every 100 births. Despite the relatively common occurrence of CHD, treatments are often invasive and costly.
The parents of this little boy were small business owners. They worked hard and made ends meet, but their ability to obtain adequate insurance was severely hindered by cost and availability. When their child arrived requiring a tremendous amount of care in order to simply survive, they began running into terrifying road blocks. One thing was clear immediately, many of the decisions regarding care and treatment of their son did not rest with the medical team who knew him well, rather these they were made by someone in a distant insurance office basing their verdicts on figures and statistics.
The usual treatments were proving ineffective for this little soldier and the insurance company was refusing experimental but promising new procedures. His mother sent a plea across her social media networks asking anyone who saw the message to flood the governor’s office with phone calls and emails on behalf of her baby.
In early 2010, her tiny son lost his fight. She stoically reported this news to friends, family, and strangers who had been united by the common cause of her son. He could have been any of our sons. He was let down by a system that values financial gain over the life of individuals. He was a child up against an army of wealth and power.
Mere months after this unimaginable loss, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. While it was by no means perfect, it was an unprecedented first step toward all Americans having the right to access quality healthcare.
As the months and years went by, the ACA was plagued with condemnation from those who opposed the movement toward public healthcare. The very politicians receiving substantial financial support from the enormous healthcare lobby that has a strangle hold on Washington were using their power in office to oppose a system that provides insurance to millions of American men, women, and children who would otherwise be uninsured.
Fast forward to today, the new administration under the mercurial guidance of Donald Trump is set to roll back much of the ACA in favor of a plan that has yet to be finalized. In so doing they create widespread uncertainty as to the literal fate of millions. Because our nation is run, not truly by the people we elect to office, but by the industries that fund their campaigns, these officials will knowingly slash health benefits to hard working citizens. The ill will be unable to afford screening and treatment, decisions will be made in homes across the US whether to pay rent or refill medications, and in what is ostensibly the nation that leads the free world, real men, women, and children will die because of a toxic blend of business and politics. If the true measure of a civilization is the way it treats its most vulnerable, what, exactly, does this say about us?