Without our health, we are not much good to anyone. I first penned this well over a decade ago when I wrote that we all have a right to healthcare. Not in a constitutional sense, but as a matter of a new social order. In his latest book, “Our Malady-Lessons in Liberty From a Hospital Diary,” the noted Yale historian Timothy Snyder summarized it best when he said that without health “all rights and freedoms have no meaning.”
Many modern politicians have spoken of our healthcare as a right. Perhaps the most vocal proponent of such an idea was Obama when he famously declared such when he debated McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign. Once he entered the White House, the passing of the Affordable Care Act (aka. “Obamacare”) was his flagship – and most disputed – piece of legislation. While public approval of the ACA fluctuated throughout the Obama presidency, today much of the Democratic establishment has embraced it – running political races on the promise of protecting Obamacare and expanding protections. Today, former Vice President Biden campaigns on the commitment to safeguard Obamacare.
While many of us may consider this as a new phenomenon, the idea of healthcare as a right has been around for decades. In 1943, President Frederick Delano Roosevelt, for example, crafted his “Second Bill of Rights,” which included the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. This idea became an international norm when the United Nations enshrined it in the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
This idea stops with the Trump administration.
A week after Election Day on November 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments challenging Obamacare’s constitutionality. The case, named Texas v. California, was brought forward by Republican attorneys general led by Texas, who allege that the legislation’s individual mandate provision was made unconstitutional. The White House actively supports the case, and if the Supreme Court votes in favor of Trump, an estimated 23 million Americans will be deprived of health insurance coverage. We cannot forget the millions more who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, losing their employer-sponsored health insurance in the process.
When the ACA became law in March 2010, we know it covered pre-existing conditions and expanded Medicaid expansion. During Trump’s tenure, seven states voted to expand Medicaid – the latest being Oklahoma and Missouri, which Trump easily carried in 2016. Republicans sought to repeal Obamacare scores of times and overturn it in the Supreme Court. Many of us will remember when John McCain – the very person who debated against Obama’s vision of government-run healthcare – voted a thumbs-down against repealing it. Today the majority of the American public is in favor of government-run health insurance. Approximately 42% of Americans say that they don’t think it goes far enough, according to a CBS poll conducted in October of 2019.
As is typical for Trump, his actions defy his words. In his most recent State of the Union Address, he told us he would always protect patients with pre-existing conditions – a 2019 Gallup poll suggests that 43% of U.S. households (or 135 million under 65 years old) fit this category. This is in addition to millions of seniors. In a pair of June 27 tweets, he declared the creation of a far better healthcare plan than the ACA, repeating his backing of people with pre-existing conditions. Later in a July 19 interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, he would sign into law a new national health care plan in the coming weeks. Then, in early August, he told us he would be executing a significant executive order requiring health insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, adding that that had never been done before. Days later, he said this type order was needed as a “double safety net.” None of these overtures ever materialized.
With the staggering levels of COVID-19 infections and deaths, Trump has responded by ginning-up unsubstantiated medical treatments like hydroxychloroquine, bleach, botanical oleander extract, and the use of convalescent plasma. These treatments have either not been proven scientifically or be ineffective to a general population. At the Republican National Convention, in front of a tight-knit crowd without masks, we heard Trump speak of coronavirus as if it was in the rearview mirror. Afterward, four attendees tested positive for COVID-19. Now, Trump is pushing to have a half-baked vaccine ready before Election Day, but their efficacy and safety will rightly be suspect as politicized without completion of required trials. His newest salvo of lies comes in the form of Dr. Scott Atlas, who embraces a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic. If adopted, the plan would allow the virus to spread through most of the population to quickly build community resistance, jeopardizing millions of lives in the process.
Through a series of recorded interviews with journalist Bob Woodward, we now know that Trump knew the virus was deadly and airborne as early as February while simultaneously downplaying it to the American public. Trump lied to the American people – old and young – about its seriousness and danger, even admitting that it was more so than “the most strenuous flu.” For months as the death toll continued to climb, he still pushed his cover-up, disregarding community requirements for social distancing and face coverings while driving schools to reopen, promoting school athletic events, and keeping the country open. Perhaps his most infuriating lie was pushing the idea that children could not be affected by the virus, despite increasing evidence to the contrary. His lies cost tens of thousands of American lives.
Departed civil rights icon, John Lewis, wrote before his passing: “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.” Taking his lead, we must have the courage to see beyond Trump’s empty overtures and expose him for what he is: a fox in sheep’s clothing, betraying our trust.
Remember the adage: ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’ Over the past four years, we have been shamed and disregarded by this president more times than I can count. As such, we need to show Trump that his actions have consequences on Election Day. But in the meantime, we cannot be fooled or misdirected anymore. Instead of turning to Trump for guidance, let us instead turn to our scientists and doctors. It is in our hands to protect our healthcare and well-being.
Miles J. Zaremski
A graduate of Case Law School in Cleveland, Miles Zaremski is the longest-serving chair of the American Bar Assoc.’s Standing Committee on Medical Professional Liability and a past president of the international organization, The American College of Legal Medicine.