Last week, early Thursday morning, the television in our office here in South Los Angeles delivered the news to a bustling waiting room: The Senate’s updated draft of the American Health Care Act has been released.
As headlines flashed across the screen announcing Republican senators’ intention to end Medicaid benefits for millions of Americans, videos of disabled protesters being dragged out of their wheelchairs were played on repeat, and pundits predicted the political consequences of a vote that hasn’t even happened yet. The staff at St. John’s shook their heads in disgust and our patients held their loved ones a little tighter.
One of our Medicaid patients who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer stopped me in the lobby to ask if her radiation treatments would be put on hold as a result of this law.
Today, one of our Medicaid patients who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer stopped me in the lobby to ask if her radiation treatments would be put on hold as a result of this law. A diabetic patient being treated by our podiatrist for a foot infection asked if her next infection will result in the loss of a limb after her Medicaid benefits are stripped away. The parent of a child with life-threatening asthma, tears running down her face, begged me not to allow her son’s vital treatments to be taken away.
Meanwhile, the people in our nation’s highest offices, who control American lives from coast to coast, couldn’t be making their priorities any clearer. The AHCA is not a health care bill. It’s an enormous tax break for the wealthiest Americans disguised as a health care bill― with people’s real, physical lives as compensation. And three Republican senators will determine whether 23 million American deserve access to health care. Three.
We’re waiting to see if Republicans will muster the moral courage to take a hard stance against the AHCA. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has received almost half a million dollars from insurance lobbyists who would benefit from this bill, with Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, and Ted Cruz, and a few others not far behind. They have a tangible motivation, however corrupt, to force this bill into law. But what is the reasoning behind everyone else’s support ― other than pure cowardice?
As Senate Republicans gear up to vote on this crucial legislation, I would like them to remember that history will not remember why a legislator said “aye” when the time came for them to vote. They will simply immortalize the moment fifty two weak legislators turned their back on the American people to line the pockets of special interests and the nation’s greediest. Those people will either be remembered as cowards, too spineless to stand up for their fellow citizens when it mattered, or forgotten altogether as meaningless shadows of legislators past. Heroes write their own stories by standing up up for what is right when the odds are stacked against them― not by swallowing hard and casting a vote just because their billionaire buddies pressured them into it.
No matter what our politicians end up doing, we the people will not stop fighting for what is right. We will sweat through California’s heat and take to the streets to declare health as a human right, as our elected officials mull over their decision from the comfort of their air conditioned offices ― a world away from the very real life or death decisions being made by Americans who don’t have access to care each day.
As I face worried staff members and fearful patients here at St. John’s this week, those three faceless senators will be in the back of my mind at all times. And the question will linger in public health centers, hospital lobbies, and the homes of sick people across the nation: who will be brave enough to stand up for America?