[The following is running in newspapers in the heavily Republican VA-06 congressional district.]
As the American public recognizes, our political system has become dysfunctional. A big component of the problem is that disgraceful political conduct has become acceptable, and is often even rewarded.
The rejection of Medicaid expansion by the Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly is a case in point.
It is hard – perhaps impossible – to find a way that this rejection is good for Virginia or its people.
Many will not be swayed by the most obvious factor-that it leaves a couple of hundred thousand Virginians without the kind of health care security that every citizen gets in other advanced democracies. Some people will not be moved by the human cost of the failure to extend Medicaid, just as some applauded at a 2012 Republican presidential debate when one of the candidates said we should let the uninsured die.
But the rest of us are hurt, too.
First, there’s the impact on the hospitals. A recent segment on the PBS News Hour compared two hospitals. One was in Washington state, where Medicaid expansion was passed, and where the additional resources have made it possible to expand services. The other hospital was our own Winchester Medical Center. Our hospital, the report said, has “laid off 28 people and is taking a hard look at [having to cut] costly services like its trauma center that treats people after car accidents and other serious injuries.”
It isn’t just poorer Virginians who pay a price. When people without coverage end up getting expensive crisis care, because they couldn’t afford an ounce of prevention, the hospitals have to jack up the prices they charge everyone who does have coverage.
Then there’s the blow to the Virginia economy more generally.
We Virginians are paying billions of dollars in taxes that would be coming back to Virginia were it not for this rejection by Republicans. Our dollars are helping people in other states while Virginians suffer. At the same time, the Virginia economy could be revitalized by the almost $4 billion that would be injected into the state if Medicaid were expanded.
So if the refusal to expand Medicaid is bad for Virginia, and bad for Virginians, why did the Republicans in the General Assembly make that choice? A look at how the Republican Party has dealt with health care reform nationally gives us the answer. At every turn, since the beginning in 2009, the Republicans have done what they could to block and then overturn and then sabotage the Affordable Care Act.
The Republicans’ rejection of Medicaid expansion is one more piece in this six-year saga of sabotage.
That this saga represents disgraceful political conduct is not hard to demonstrate. And saying that the ACA (a.k.a. Obamacare) is a bad program does nothing to refute that. Because even if it were a bad program, these three pieces together make the case against the Republicans airtight:
1. The United States had a huge problem with its health care system. Other countries get much more while spending less, so there was no doubt that a better system was possible. With trillions of dollars being wasted, and tens of thousands of American lives being lost, surely something had to be done.
2. Republicans have relentlessly assaulted the one solution proposed and passed.
3. One might blame the defects of the solution (a solution that actually originated among Republicans) rather than the determination to prevent Democrats from accomplishing anything, except for the third piece of the picture: Republicans did absolutely nothing to improve this health plan before it was enacted and have never proposed anything better.
To make war on the one solution out there while never proposing anything better is simply unacceptable. And, our founders would say, a violation of the spirit of the system of government they gave us.
No one who wants American politics to be a means of working for the common good, rather than a form of warfare, should applaud the Republican rejection of Medicaid expansion.
Andy Schmookler, the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012, is the author of the forthcoming book, WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World-and How We Can Defeat It. Advance copies of the book can now be purchased here.