As Republicans rushed to jam nominee Amy Coney Barrett into the Supreme Court, her confirmation hearings were underscored by growing tensions surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Critics worry that a conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court could jeopardize healthcare coverage and access for millions of Americans. The conservatives’ mission to repeal Obamacare is about more than erasing Obama’s legacy—it is just one chapter in their long-fought battle to further privatize healthcare and maximize profits for health insurance companies at the cost of American citizens’ lives.
Beyond healthcare being a political disagreement of Left vs. Right, it is also fundamentally an issue of ideology. Is healthcare a human right, or is it a good to be bought and sold? For those on the Right who treat it as a commodity, any effort to ensure equitable access to healthcare is labeled as far-Left extremism. Take Bill O’Reilly’s tirade that Obamacare is socialist because “the Democratic Party wants to put as much money into the hands of the poor and less affluent as they can and the healthcare subsidies are a great way to do just that.”
Naturally, Donald Trump echoes these sentiments, and makes his disdain for a single-payer healthcare system loud and clear, decrying Medicare for all as “a socialist takeover.” Like many of his other stances, this is, of course, rife with irony. Trump’s efforts to quickly fill the Supreme Court vacancy comes on the heels of a case challenging Obamacare. This assault on socialized medicine also immediately follows the moment socialized medicine saved his life.
Less than a day after Trump tested positive for COVID-19, he was transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a hospital offering health care for members of the military, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, the president, and the vice president. It’s likely that the President’s condition at the time was cause for serious concern; a CNN briefing on the situation declared that “It remains extremely rare for a President to [stay] overnight in hospital, given the extensive medical facilities available at the White House.”
Despite this, Trump and his team did their best to paint a picture of perfect health for the President, with staged photo ops drawing ridicule and Weekend at Bernie’s comparisons. Even the White House Doctor Sean Conley was committed to maintaining this facade, delivering press conferences praising Trump’s condition and recovery while paradoxically admitting that his blood oxygen levels had dangerously dropped on multiple occasions.
The treatments given to Trump at Walter Reed tell a different story than what the White House perpetuated. He was provided with the antiviral drug Remdesivir, the steroid Dexamethasone, and a non-FDA approved experimental antibody cocktail developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Dexamethasone in particular is only needed for COVID-19 patients needing oxygen or ventilation and is therefore reserved for moderately severe cases.
It’s safe to say that Trump got pretty sick, and there’s no telling how much his condition would have deteriorated without the top-of-the-line care he received. However, the most damning part of this whole affair isn’t that Trump downplayed the extent of his own illness to portray some sort of weird, strongman image. Rather, it’s that his COVID-19 treatment cost an estimated $650,000 of taxpayer money while he paid only $750 in federal income tax.
Walter Reed is a completely government-run and government-funded facility—in essence, what Trump would dub “socialized healthcare.” Effectively, Trump received top of the line, free healthcare while paying $750 into the system. Meanwhile, in 2019, American families were paying an average of $20,576 annually in health insurance premiums.
On top of that, even patients with robust healthcare plans are frequently denied coverage that health insurance companies simply don’t want to deal with. For example, a flight in an air ambulance, the very treatment that Trump received, cost a Philadelphia woman $52,112 that her insurance company refused to even partially cover.
Thousands of Americans are being hit with massive surprise bills after COVID-19 treatment despite already shelling out thousands of dollars in health insurance payments annually. The fallout of this pandemic will extend beyond mourning for the lives lost—it will also include thousands of survivors’ lives ruined by medical debt.
Clearly, our health insurance system is broken. It seems to work for no one except the interests of health insurance companies and their shareholders. Trump knows this. He couldn’t care less.
In the same breath with which he praised the excellent care at Walter Reed, he decried expanding health insurance coverage for millions of insured Americans. He denounced Medicare for All, claiming that US taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the healthcare of so-called ‘freeloaders’ while he himself leeched off the American working class for the cost of his treatments. In the words of Senator Bernie Sanders, “For Trump, ‘socialized medicine,’ is bad for everyone but himself.”
Even long after he is gone, one of Trump’s lasting legacies could likely be stripping millions of vulnerable Americans of healthcare coverage. The uninsured population is already shockingly high for the richest nation in the world: 32.8 million people. In stacking the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, Trump has made dismantling the ACA a very scary reality.
At the end of the day, the insurance companies whose interests he so valiantly defends wouldn’t bat an eyelash to nickel and dime Trump for the COVID-19 treatment he received. Though this isn’t a huge problem for billionaires like Trump (albeit one who is massively indebted), the American people are being exploited to line the pockets of insurance company CEOs.
Healthcare is not a commodity. It is a human right we are all entitled to, not just Donald Trump.