Hey Senator, people aren’t cars

July 18, 2017

Gretchen Sager diagnoses a society that compares sick people to damaged goods.

WISCONSIN SEN. Ron Johnson has compared people with pre-existing health conditions to cars that have been in accidents.

"We've done something with our health care system that you never even think about doing, for example, with auto insurance, where you'd require auto insurance companies to sell a policy to somebody after they crashed their car," said Johnson.

Remember that horrible list of pre-existing conditions that circulated in early May when Republicans in Congress were considering their proposals for rolling back protections for people who have them?

The list hasn't changed. It still includes babies born with multiple heart defects. Kids who need lifesaving EpiPens. Illnesses that are unpredictable, sometimes hereditarily unavoidable, and some that are straight up caused by living in a society that praises people who work 70 or more hours per week.

Cancer, diabetes, chronic illness, depression and even pregnancy. The list goes on for miles.

Well, Senator Johnson, if people with pre-existing conditions are bad drivers who should pay higher premiums, then it's your fault for cursing us with a crumbling infrastructure. How can we be good drivers if you won't fix the roads?

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

We may never know the answer to that question, because in keeping with his practice of refusing to hold town hall meetings, Johnson also refuses to hold a congressional hearing on the subject. He says that he "already knows the answer, and no one wants to talk about it."

Senator Johnson, that's just not true. As we know from the anti-Trumpcare protests all over the country. It's gotten so bad that police in Washington, D.C., are dragging protesters from their wheelchairs and mobility devices.

On June 28, a group of 30 people, most members of the disability rights organization ADAPT, attempted to bring their demands to Sen. Johnson's office, but were denied entrance. They had trouble getting into the building altogether, since the accessible entrance and lobby were barely able to accommodate more than two wheelchair users at a time.

Johnson's aides supplied protesters with comment sheets to fill out, but ultimately, the group was given the runaround. The vaulted ceilings and marble floors rang with chants of "I'd rather go to jail than die without Medicaid," and as the group started their die-in, Homeland Security officers began dragging out those not in wheelchairs.

Unlike in Washington, the police elected to not drag people away from their chairs, but the sentiment was still the same--the state does not care about the disabled, the working poor, or people if profits might be at risk.

"GUARANTEED COVERAGE for everyone drives up premiums," claims the Republican leadership. "We'll be saved by the free market!"

But the only things that drive up insurance costs are the insurance and pharmaceutical companies themselves.

The CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurance company in the country, "earned" $17.8 million in 2016, a 22.4 percent increase compared to 2015. Or consider the now-infamous former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals--Martin "Pharma Bro" Shkreli--who in 2015 raised the price of a lifesaving medication from $13.50 to $750 a pill just because he could.

Or Mylan CEO Heather Bresch who came under fire for raising the price of EpiPens from $56.64 to $317.82 during the same span of time in which her total compensation rose from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068. There is no reason for such price hikes--or pay hikes.

No shortage of resources, no shortage of chemists. Just a surplus of greed and a system that not only refuses to stop it, but now wants to reward it.

Disability rates have also skyrocketed in the past 30 years. That's not just conservatives frothing at the mouth about spending and supposed laziness: It's real. Despite the earth-shattering medical breakthroughs that have been made in that same time frame, people continue to get sick and hurt.

There's the obvious answer: that it doesn't matter what miracle cures exist if people don't have access to them. Working people are still sick because we can't afford to pay what it costs to get better.

There is also a less-obvious answer: disability rates have risen in the past 30 years because over those same 30 years, the rate of union busting and the creation of nonunion service jobs has skyrocketed.

According to reporting from 2013, the most common maladies afflicting disability recipients by diagnosis were "back pain and other musculoskeletal problems," and secondly "mental illness and developmental disabilities." In 1961, the most common ailment was "heart disease and stroke." Simply put, we are being worked to the point where our bodies and minds no longer function.

Wisconsin is a right-to-work state with a governor who has a fetish for union busting. Sen. Johnson is a former CEO turned politician, who literally sees people as machines whose worth is based on how much profit they can generate.

It's no wonder that people work themselves to death.

But sick people are more than cars that experienced an accident.

Health care is a right that must be asserted over and above the greedy CEOs who make a killing of our for-profit health care system.

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