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Standing with 50 Million Uninsured Americans

Posted by Catherine Thomasson, MD on October 4, 2013

Watching the government shutdown is like watching democracy close the doors on its own people. While Congress is at a standoff, the federal government is left unable to conduct crucial activities. Currently, there are three bills underway in which PSR is actively pursuing reforms; the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, and the Nuclear Waste Administrative Act. But with Congress in gridlock -- unwilling to come to a resolution, these critical pieces of legislation, and important health services, are on pause.

The current strife appears to be over the Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010, and offers affordable medical insurance to 15% of the population. In short, it provides health care to people who need it most. Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) recognizes the many challenges of those without medical coverage, and stands with those who seek to gain insurance for themselves and their families. We affirm the fundamental principle of equality that this country was founded upon, recognizing the universal right to health care, and in this society that means access to safe, affordable medical care via health insurance.  

The Affordable Care Act seeks to rectify this inequality by providing affordable insurance of a standard package of services regardless of preconditions and to further assist senior citizens. It has been voted into legislation by the people’s representatives, upheld by the Supreme Court, and is now open to enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace. It is legislation that has been much discussed, and is currently in the implementation phase.

Shutting down the Government has an enormous cost so should not be utilized as a political tool. Lost wages and services of federal employees are estimated at $300 million a day of wasted tax payer dollars. When the last shutdown occurred 17 years ago, the cost of the 26 day hiatus was estimated at $1.4 billion, or $2.1 billion in today’s dollars. Many federal workers will experience delayed paychecks, affecting credit or mortgage payments, but some contract workers are furloughed without any pay. However, the shutdown has a deeper cost. People expect more from their government. They pay taxes so that government can provide services especially to those in need, not to be shutdown when elected representatives disagree over a law.

The government may have shutdown, but people’s needs don’t.  During this time, the American public is no longer receiving services to keep our food safe, receiving nutritional services through the WIC program and many other services.

Likewise we now have to wait on Congress to pass a stop gap budget before we can move ahead on legislative solutions to improve health. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S 1090) is on hold as we would prefer to work to improve the bill to protect our health from industrial toxic chemicals. 72,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from power plants is on hold while we advocate for marked improvements calling for safer storage on reactor sites without worries over disasters like Fukushima (S 1240). Climate change is storming ahead, with droughts, floods and ozone pollution causing lung and cardiovascular related health problems. The Congress needs to push ahead with the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill (S 1392).  

As a country, we must do better! Amidst the rhetoric, we should keep in mind that the government’s job is to provide services demanded by and for the people and Congress’s role is to outline them and fund them. At this time, we must make our demands heard. Whether you call, write a letter or send an email, contact your elected congressional representative today and express your concerns. At this time, we must do as citizens what Congress seems incapable of doing: TAKE ACTION!

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