Hot Dogs and Healthcare (342)

When we talk about eating a hot dog, what we usually mean is that we’re not going to just eat a hot dog. We’re going to eat a hot dog…on a bun. But we don’t usually add the word “bun” when we describe eating a hot dog, because in a way, it’s merely the gratuitous delivery device by which we eat the hot dog. To be sure, most people like the bun as well, but the bun isn’t the hot dog. I guess some folk just eat a hot dog bun, but I don’t know any folk like that, at least not among true hot dog lovers like me.

A hot dog in its bun comes to mind as I follow the current debate over the recently proposed health care legislation. The proposed legislation isn’t really about “health care.” That’s just the bun. It’s about a massive tax cut for wealthy persons and corporations that will redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich. That’s the real hot dog here. The Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan committee of Congress assisting both parties on tax legislation, estimates that over the next ten years the legislation will redistribute one trillion dollars from health coverage for the bottom fifty percent of the population to give a tax cut to the top two percent.

Since the proposed legislation must be revenue neutral (due to the rules of the byzantine “reconciliation process”), where will that redistributed wealth come from to cover this enormous tax cut for the top two percent of the population? It will come from massive cuts to the Medicaid program, which provides health care to the poor, the disabled, and the elderly, who need it for nursing home and home care services (my daddy receives it now that he’s depleted most of his other assets). It’s Robin Hood in reverse. It’s a huge wealth redistribution (hot dog) masquerading as health care legislation (bun). It’s a punishment of the poor for being poor and thus for not being able to afford to buy health insurance.

Do those supporting this legislation think that, if passed, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly will stop needing health care simply because they can no longer afford to pay for it? How naïve! They will delay getting care until their situations are chronic or they won’t get health care at all. Estimates are that if over 20 million people lose health insurance coverage it will cause over 24,000 persons/year to die needlessly simply because they have no insurance. We end up paying for these costs one way or another.

This ought not to be a partisan issue among the political parties, but it’s become so. It’s become about which party will “win this fight.” I have no affection for either political party. They both seem to care more about “winning” than they do about caring “for the least of these who are members of [Jesus’] family” (Matthew 25:40). This or any healthcare legislation should be judged on its morality concerning the poor, not on its political expediency and certainly not on how much money politicians can redistribute to the rich. How we treat one another in this country when we need health care shouldn’t be about which party wins the day. Even hot dog lovers like me know that hot dogs aren’t a very healthy food. And when they’re in the form of a tax cut for the wealthy, they can really be unhealthy for “the least of these” among us.


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