Elizabeth Warren: “People Will Die”

Published on June 22, 2017

“Medicaid is the program in this country that provides health insurance to one in five Americans, to thirty million kids, to nearly two out of every three people in a nursing home. These cuts are blood money. People will die. Let’s be very clear: Senate Republicans are paying for tax cuts for the wealthy with American lives.”

—Senator Elizabeth Warren, commenting on the newly-released GOP healthcare bill

A as I was resting comfortably this morning, making my way through Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s latest book, Giant of the Senate, I had the TV on in the background. I saw protesters, many of them in wheelchairs, being removed from Mitch McConnell’s safe Image result for protesters in mcconnell office on capitolspace on Capitol Hill. I heard their passionate pleas. Then I saw the police take them away.

Today, of course, is the unveiling of the latest reactionary plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, which is essentially a typical Republican scheme designed to take from the poor and middle class and give to the rich (and defund Planned Parenthood, which would, sadly, increase the number of abortions Republicans say they hate). So, other than a few details, what was revealed today should not have come as a surprise to anyone. The wheel-chair protesters, obviously, knew what was coming.

Now, it so happens that I was on page 80 of Franken’s book, when MSNBC was showing the protesters and discussing not whether the latest GOP plan would do damage to people, but how much damage it would do. That’s where we are these days. In any case, starting on page 80 of the book Franken explains what happened the day after he announced his run for the Senate in February of 2007. I will quote it at length:

…I visited a health clinic in Minneapolis where my friend Dr. Margie Hogan worked. I spent time meeting with health care providers and patients and listening to some of the horror stories that were commonplace before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

One of the stories Margie told me became a mainstay of my stump speech. It involved an incredibly promising seventeen-year-old girl from a Hmong family [the Hmong fought on the U.S. side during the secret war in Laos during Vietnam; many thousands settled in Minnesota after the war] who was doing college-level work as a junior in high school. But she had lupus. And her family earned just enough money to no longer qualify for MinnesotaCare, a program that covered low-income families in the state. The girl lost her health insurance.

Lupus is a chronic disease, and the medication that controls it is extremely expensive. The girl told her parents to stop buying it so they could afford to take care of the other kids in the family. It broke their hearts, but she was right: They couldn’t afford the medicine, not with everything else weighing on the family budget. So they stopped buying it.

The next time Margie saw the girl was six weeks later, back in the hospital. But this time, she was in the emergency room, suffering from renal failure. She had to be put on dialysis, and doctors thought she might have to be on dialysis for the rest of her life.

“Now, that’s wrong,” I would tell crowds that had invariably gone quiet by this point in the story. “But it’s not just wrong—it’s stupid! How much is it going to cost our system to give her dialysis throughout her life? And how much is this going to cost her, in terms of her potential and her quality of life?”

According to the most recent data when my campaign began [in 2007], there were 46.6 million Americans living without health insurance, including 21.5 million who worked full-time and, worst of all, 8.3 million children. And on my radio show, I talked about this issue all the time with guests like Elizabeth Warren, who told me that half of all bankruptcies in America were tied to a medical problem.

But at bean feeds, I met people who had lived it. Or who would tell me about their sister or their cousin who had lived it. And traveling around Minnesota, stopping in cafés and coffee shops and VFW halls, I couldn’t help but notice the flyers up on bulletin boards announcing barbecues or potlucks or spaghetti dinners to benefit families that had gone broke because someone had gotten very sick or been in a terrible accident.

Getting to universal health care was always going to be a central focus of my campaign. But now, instead of talking about it just as a policy issue, I was also talking about it as a personal issue—because that’s what it was for so many Minnesotans.

Policy issues may be dry. They may be dull. They may be tough to talk about, what with all the numbers and legal writing and arcane parliamentary procedures. But this issue, this health care issue, this one that affects so many people—either directly and/or indirectly through an aging parent who needs nursing care—is personal. It is personal.

We all have heard stories like Al Franken heard from his doctor friend at a health clinic in Minnesota. We’ve all seen the donation jars or boxes with homemade signs in convenience stores asking us to help an unfortunate person with medical expenses. And we all know, or at least we should know, that things shouldn’t be that way in an unfathomably wealthy America.

They just shouldn’t.

___________________________________

[photo: Doug Mills]
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9 Comments

  1. Only in America.

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  2. Man, that is poignant, Duane. I need to get Franken’s book.

    Not long ago I wryly joked about Franken for president, but I’ve paid attention since and I’m impressed. He’s intelligent, very articulate, nimble even in discourse. He has empathy, he’s the real deal. And yes, he has a sense of humor. He’s the mirror image of what we have now as president. Al Franken for president? I’d vote for him in a New York minute.

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    • Jim,

      I love every Franken book I’ve read. He is an entertaining writer. And his latest book is quite insightful into the inner-world of high-level politics and why Franken, and me and you, should be Democrats. I still have a little bit left to read, but I think it is his best book so far.

      Back in December, I wrote a piece about Franken. It was a plea for him to start thinking about running for president. I never finished the piece, largely because I was on vacation at the time (!), but I still feel like, given the change in the dynamics of American politics, the things Franken went through during his first Senate run (the attacks on his career as a satirist, with all the GOP demagoguery surrounding the crude jokes that go along with that career) wouldn’t be a problem in a national race. And besides that, the guy went to Harvard. He’s “whip-smart” (that’s a joke in the book, by the way). He has studied policy issues his whole life. He threw himself into his new job as Minnesota’s senator. And, dammit, he can be intelligently funny (he is starting to get back to his witty ways, as time goes by). 

      So, Franken being a presidential candidate was never a wry joke for me. I’d love to at least see him give it a shot. I have a feeling that this book is a testing of the waters. It is really a very candid look at the things he went through and how American politics really works, or, well, doesn’t.

      Duane

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  3. By “mirror image”, I meant opposite.

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  4. Anonymous

     /  June 23, 2017

    Thanks to Republican fundamentalists and an electorate too busy trying to keep their head above water to educate themselves that their voting choices are against their own financial interests, we are now one of the only civilized nations in the world to deny universal healthcare to its citizens. The only positive is the backlash the GOP will receive in 2020 should they succeed in the repeal. This will adversely affect everyone including Republican voters

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    • I like the term “Republican fundamentalists.” Very much.

      I don’t now how this phony “repeal” of Obamacare will turn out. They can’t really repeal the law under the reconciliation process, but they can make people think they are (at least some of the people). But I don’t think it will matter all that much either way. If they fail to pass a much more harmful bill, they are still stuck with the fact that they and Tr-mp are slowly destroying the exchanges created by the ACA. And whether they pass a bill or not, they will get the blame for their sabotage, even if people don’t quite know how that sabotage happened. Republicans own the healthcare failures now. Completely own them. And Democrats have to shout that fact from the housetops, along with a plan to fix what we have, which, if the fix is the right fix, will lead us, inevitably, to that place of universal healthcare all decent people want to see.

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      • Robert Reich, in a column in today’s Globe, is pushing for “Medicare for All” and saying that it is a movement among some Democrats in Congress now. It has a nice ring to it.

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        • Oh, it does have a nice ring to it, for sure. But I’m in the process of figuring out where I stand on how Democrats ought to play that issue next year. It’s “complicated,” as we all now know. I’m a little concerned about the division in the party over the issue, and I’m not sure the country can understand the complex tax issues involved and I am damned sure they will be deluged with GOP propaganda that will prevent them from understanding it. I’ll have to think about it some more.

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