A Grain Of Saul

A Grain Of Saul: Don’t Criticize Sen. McCain — Applaud The System For Giving Him Care

We should fight so every American has the care John McCain is getting.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Imagine waking up one day with blurry vision and a headache. 

You go to the doctor, hoping it's nothing serious. After several tests and concerned looks, they tell you the bad news: you have a blood clot. You'll need surgery or else you face the risk of brain damage.

The experience of a concerning symptom turns into one's worst fear, realized, is one millions of Americans will experience at some point in their lives. 

Fortunately, Sen. John McCain has his health insurance covered — like all members of Congress — by the Affordable Care Act exchanges. And on Friday, when he needed a craniotomy to remove a two-inch blood clot above his left eye, he was quickly taken into surgery at the Mayo Clinic Hospital.

But in the United States, McCain's story is one of good fortune. 


KIEV, UKRAINE - Sep 23, 2015: President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko had a meeting with Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services Senator John McCain. Shutterstock / Drop of Light

In fact, this week, the Arizona Republican was scheduled to vote on a new health care bill — the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — which a recent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) estimated would cost as many as 22 million people their health insurance over the next 10 years. While all indications were McCain would vote for the bill, news of his recent surgery led some Americans to critique the senator. We all need health insurance. For partisans, it's a tempting line of attack to take, but it's also one that will do little to advance better health care legislation.

Thanks to Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran, who withdrew their support for the BRCA late Monday night, Sen. McCain won't have to vote: the bill is ostensibly dead (for now). And thanks to three outspoken members of Congress — Sens. Lisa Murkoski, Susan Collins and Shelley Capito — the potential for a repeal of Obamacare without a replacement is also dead (for now).

Hopefully, less pressure to rush back for a vote will allow Sen. McCain to heal quickly and have a full recovery before returning to the Senate. When he gets there, it'd be nice to see his colleagues consider fixes to Obamacare, rather than continuously seeking to destroy it. After all, McCain — an elderly U.S. veteran, a father, a grandfather and a public servant — is a lot like millions of other Americans who rely on a functioning and affordable health care system.

"The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation's governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care," McCain said in a statement on Monday night.

Unfortunately, the most recent attempt at "fixing" health care, the BRCA, did anything but provide that.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) called on the Senate to reject the BRCA, which would have better coverage than a simple repeal, saying it is "adamantly opposed to the Age Tax, which would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more for coverage than everyone else while reducing tax credits that help make insurance more affordable."

Under the Affordable Care Act, limits were put on the so-called "age tax" to only allow insurers to charge the elderly three times as much as younger people. 

Howard Bedlin, the vice president for public policy and advocacy at the National Council on Aging, said the Senate replacement bill "is even meaner" than what was passed in the House of Representatives. In an interview with HuffPost, he cited deep Medicaid cuts, which pays for about 65 percent of nursing home residents. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new option, to repeal the ACA without replacement, would leave 32 million uninsured and cause a100 percent increase in premiums.

There is also another important and vocal group of Americans concerned about repealing Obamacare: veterans. Several major veterans' organizations have been outspoken in their opposition to the potential repeal of Obamacare. Paralyzed Veterans of America — one of the six biggest nonpartisan veterans group in the country — called the process for attempting to pass the BRCA "opaque and closed."

VoteVets, a progressive veterans group that was blocked by President Trump on Twitter, also launched ad campaigns in two states against the bill, saying the Veterans Affairs would not be able to make up the missing coverage that will result from a repeal of Obamacare.

It's not just advocates for the elderly and veterans who want to keep Obamacare, though. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans would rather have the Affordable Care Act than any of the Republican replacements. Those margins are bigger when Americans are asked about repealing Obamacare without a replacement, which as of Tuesday afternoon was the best option the Republican-led Senate could offer. 

Hearing about McCain's emergency surgery, I also couldn't help but think about the care I hope my own dad or grandparents get when they need it. Two weeks ago, I didn't have to wonder: my 95-year-old grandmother fell and fractured her hip. Without the necessary health insurance to get surgery, the injury would have been a death sentence and her final days of life would've been spent in pain and in bed. 

Instead, she was able to get a pin in her hip and is currently receiving professional rehabilitation services in a facility in Florida. With any luck, she'll be back on her feet in a couple of months.

Enjoying a drink with my grandmother in Florida. Isaac Saul

During this contentious time in politics, people have been too quick to call Sen. McCain a hypocrite — or worse — for receiving this kind of care and then supporting legislation that could take that care away from others. But let's take a step back. Let's both applaud the system and congratulate him. He is a military veteran and a public servant. He is a husband, a father and grandfather. He is an American. He deserves this care, and I'm happy that my own health insurance premiums and my own tax dollars go towards paying for it.

Hopefully, Sen. McCain and his colleagues remember that other Americans deserve that care, too.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Christopher Halloran 


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