Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

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Guest column:

Universal health care remains an evasive but noble goal for the nation

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Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., stands on the House Floor at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019.

When my 19-month-old son, Nelson, got sick recently, we took him to the doctor and then I went to a chain-store pharmacy to have a prescription filled. The pharmacist told me it was lucky I had insurance because what cost me $5 would cost an uninsured person $250.

More recently, I talked with one of my district’s few remaining independent pharmacists. He said the prescription’s actual wholesale cost is about $80, so he would have charged an uninsured person about $100.

This is a broken system.

And no, as a member of Congress I don’t have an all-expenses-paid “Cadillac” health care plan at taxpayers’ expense — that’s a myth. In fact, our kids and I are actually insured through my wife’s employment.

We’re lucky. Many Americans would shell out $250 for a basic flu prescription for their toddler — for too many, a choice between that prescription or paying for their groceries or rent. Few would know they could shop around for a lower — though still not cheap — price, or maybe they would know but wouldn’t have the time or transportation to get to a different pharmacy.

It’s 2019, and we are one of the only industrialized nations in which this remains an issue. The rest of the world already recognizes that a human being’s health isn’t a commodity.

This is a true national crisis — not the kind of theater that President Donald Trump desperately is trying to manufacture at our border with Mexico to justify his ego project, but a real crisis threatening each of our households and our economy at large.

If you’re sick, you should be able to see a doctor. And if you’re seen, you should be able to afford the bill and your medicine without going broke. There is absolutely nothing radical about this. Just think of what we could achieve as individuals and as a nation if so many of us didn’t have to worry about losing everything to illness or injury.

Yet this president has been hell-bent on making sure more Americans do have to worry. He failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but he has strived to undercut the law’s insurance markets; threatened to nix cost-sharing reduction payments; slashed funding for “navigators” who assist enrollment; and used federal funds meant for implementing the law to propagandize against it instead.

He has toiled to increase costs and depress enrollment. His mission is to make people hate the law by forcing them to suffer. It’s politically motivated, short-sighted and immoral (all of which describe the president in other contexts as well).

At least now, with a House majority, we Democrats can finally halt the repeated and misguided efforts to repeal the law wholesale, and mount stronger challenges to the president’s administrative war on Americans’ health insurance.

We will protect the Affordable Care Act however we can, and move to shore up that which the president and his enablers have been intent on undermining. We can revive bipartisan efforts we saw in the Senate over the past two years to guarantee insurers will be paid cost-sharing reduction subsidies, and to fund “reinsurance” reimbursing insurers for some costs associated with their highest-cost enrollees. As we do so, we’ll explore the best way to move our nation toward truly universal health care under a Medicare-for-all model.

And we can do even better than that. We should invest heavily and focus our top technological minds on finding cures in our lifetime for what ails us most.

My office welcomes a steady stream of visits by patient advocacy groups that are losing hope that Washington will go big and act boldly to invest in cures for their loved ones. How could you blame them? We have governed incrementally, funding the government (when it’s not shut down) for just weeks at a time, never giving thought to the long term.

Finding cures means significantly increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health and giving them long-term certainty of their budget. If we can put a probe on Mars, or put online orders on your doorstep within hours, surely we can harness our unparalleled innovative spirit to prolong and better our lives while creating thousands of new jobs in the life sciences.

When I was campaigning for a House candidate last summer, I heard about the collection jars found on many Midwestern convenience store counters — collections taken up for local people who have fallen ill and desperately need help paying their bills.

We’re a generous people, but this isn’t right. Your health shouldn’t rely on pleas for kindness from strangers. We can and will do better.

Eric Swalwell has just begun his fourth term representing California’s 15th Congressional District, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter at @EricSwalwell.