Congresswoman uses son’s disability to serve up disingenuous take on the GOP’s health care bill
A few days after the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), I read with interest an op-ed in The Washington Post by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a congresswoman from Washington state who, along with 216 other Republicans, cast an aye vote.
I’d become familiar with McMorris Rodgers over the past decade only because my mother used to live in her conservative district, which includes Spokane, and I’d see her occasionally on television and in newspapers standing behind former Speaker of the House John Boehner. These days, she’s the yes-woman to Speaker Paul Ryan.
I can say with near certainty that McMorris Rodgers and I have very little in common ideologically or otherwise. As far as I can tell, one of the few similarities between us is the fact that we both have a child with Down syndrome.
This week, McMorris Rodgers used her son Cole’s disability—an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, or trisomy 21 in medical jargon—as an example of how her vote on the GOP’s American Health Care Act will protect the vulnerable, including kids like Cole and, as she mentioned in her piece, Billy Kimmel, comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s newborn son who underwent emergency open-heart surgery just days after entering the world.
Thing is, the Republicans’ health care bill actually will do the opposite. It creates a system in which those with pre-existing conditions—including congenital birth defects, such as heart conditions—can be charged insurance premiums based on their current or previous “health status.”
One of the key provisions of the existing health care law is its cap on the costs people with pre-existing conditions pay. Since the pending AHCA has no such ceiling, insurance companies will be able to charge significantly higher rates.
That’s not a big deal for people like McMorris Rodgers, who makes $174,000 annually, not including benefits, and has a net worth of more than $1 million. But for the average American household, the majority of which have less than $1,000 in savings and make around $73,000 yearly, according to the U.S. Census, those costs will be burdensome at best and financially crippling at worst.
Indeed, Republicans like to talk about how Americans with pre-existing conditions will have “access” to health care under their bill. What they don’t say is that such access is guaranteed only to those who can afford it.
Like McMorris Rodgers, Jimmy Kimmel has the wealth to pay for higher premiums. Unlike the congresswoman, however, he has the emotional intelligence and enough concern for others to acknowledge that the AHCA won’t work for all Americans. As Kimmel put it last week, “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.”
As a parent who frets about her medically fragile child’s welfare on a regular basis, I’d say Kimmel nailed it. That McMorris Rodgers would use her son’s disability to spin her vote as some sort of altruistic measure is next-level abhorrent.