Sassos: Health care act a violation of basic human values

(Indianapolis Star, May 11, 2017)

To treat health care solely as a bottom line, consumer driven product and not also as a moral mandate is to demean the covenant of citizenship.

What if government were prepared to allow 24 million people to lose their health care coverage over the next 10 years? What if people were told that if you had catastrophic illness, it was your problem alone, and that a nation had no collective responsibility to the welfare and care of its citizens?

What if our government proposed that a woman who had a C-section or had been a victim of domestic violence could be considered to have a “pre-existing condition” that would significantly increase the cost of her coverage? What if The Essential Health Benefits provision were abolished, eliminating maternity coverage, new-born care and mental health services, resulting in the loss of coverage to 13 million women?

These are not hypothetical questions. This is precisely what the American Health Care Act (AHCA) just approved by the House of Representatives could do. It should be inconceivable, but it isn’t. The vote was hurried, before the Congressional Budget Office could come out with an assessment of the costs and impacts. The American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Disability Rights Network, the American Federation of Teachers are among 50 organizations that have condemned the bill because of its devastating consequences to millions of Americans.

There are 9,800 Medicaid patients in Indiana who access birth control, cancer screening and STD testing and treatment through Planned Parenthood who will be blocked from receiving that care. Under this new bill, millions of women could lose access to maternity services. Individual states would be able to decide if new mothers with Medicaid coverage should be required to work. So much for protecting the health and wellbeing of newborn and family life.

Women who had breast cancer could be charged a premium surcharge of more than $28,000 per year for coverage and women who had been previously pregnant could face a surcharge of more than $17,000 a year. A proposed pool of funds to help subsidize pre-existing conditions is insufficient. So much for not discriminating against women.

Beginning in 2020, the AHCA could eliminate Medicaid coverage for basic mental health and addiction services in states that had previously expanded it. Reps. Joe Kennedy and Peter Welch introduced an amendment in committee to include mandates for substance abuse and mental health coverage, but it was defeated along party lines. There were 33,000 Americans who died of opiate overdoses in 2015. So much for addressing the mental health and drug crisis.

The moral obligation to care and heal is the hallmark of any civilized society. Every faith tradition affirms the responsibility to care for the sick, and to protect and enhance the well-being of all, regardless of economic status. Everyone is created in the image of God. To turn aside from those in need, is turn away from God.

To treat health care solely as a bottom line, consumer driven product and not also as a moral mandate is to demean the covenant of citizenship. It is ironic that those who promote prayer in public schools and who proclaim pro-life and pro-family credentials would endorse such a blatant violation of basic human values. The AHCA is not a prescription for the health of Americans but a diagnosis of what is wrong when politicians put expediency above compassion and responsibility.

Let us make sure that the Senate prescribes for the health of America.

Sandy Sasso is senior rabbi emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University. Dennis Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.