Irony: McCain Needs Tax Funded Care Before Healthcare Vote

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is recuperating at home following surgery to remove a blood clot from above his eye, and some are worried that the mass could be linked to previous bouts of melanoma. McCain was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2000, and released his medical records in 2008 when running for president (he clinched the Republican nomination but lost to Democratic nominee Barack Obama). While an 80-year-old Senator undergoing surgery is not unusual, the timing is everything: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is delaying a crucial healthcare bill vote, the controversial Obamacare repeal-and-replace proposal, until McCain’s recovery.

Despite having a two-Senator advantage in the 100-member chamber and enjoying the full support of tie-breaking vice president Mike Pence, the Republican healthcare plan is balancing on a razor’s edge. It would be very easy to lose three or more GOP Senators given the bill’s numerous contentious and controversial clauses: Sharp cuts to Medicaid, the return of bare-bones health insurance plans, and decreased protections for pre-existing conditions…and that’s just stuff that moderates hate. Die-hard conservatives also dislike the bill, which maintains many of the Obamacare subsidies and some of the taxes on higher earners. With the bill’s success already in jeopardy, McConnell wants to make sure that all 52 Republicans are on deck before commencing with a vote.

But could McCain’s surgery and recuperation change things? Could it change McCain’s own vote? 

The situation is ironic. John McCain, who has been in the employ of the federal government his entire adult life, first as a U.S. Naval officer and then as a congressman, has long enjoyed government-funded healthcare. As a son and grandson of admirals and student at the U.S. Naval Academy, his healthcare has always been funded by taxpayers. His sons have embarked on their own military service, continuing the chain of government-funded healthcare for the McCain family.

Senator McCain has benefited from taxpayer-funded healthcare as a lifelong federal employee and dependent…can the former naval aviator really, in good conscience, vote to remove federal support for citizens’ healthcare?

Arizona, which McCain has long represented in Washington, stands to suffer if the Republican healthcare bill passes. The veteran Senator is facing pressure from within the state to oppose the bill’s harsh cuts to Medicaid, which would likely reduce medical services available to the state’s poor and leave hospitals on the hook for more non-paying patients. Another group near and dear to McCain’s heart would be negatively impacted by the bill: Military veterans. Less than half of military veterans get care through the VA, and roughly 10 percent rely on Medicaid

As McCain recuperates from surgery, he should think about how Arizona’s less wealthy citizens, and how struggling military veterans nationwide, would fare under the swift repeal of Obamacare. He should remember that, as a federal employee, his own healthcare is paid for by U.S. taxpayers, as it has been his entire life. Senator McCain has never relied on private health insurance. If he has never faced the slings and arrows of privatized health insurance, should he vote to remove the partial shield of protection from these slings and arrows that Obamacare and Medicaid provide the poor?

It is painfully ironic that the vote which could make or break the Republican healthcare bill, and thus subject millions to a quick Medicaid reduction, is in the hands of someone who has never had to purchase private health insurance… and is right now recovering after receiving a surgery that was funded by taxpayers. Fortunately, McCain seems to be a rather moderate Republican on healthcare. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing number of ex-military men in Congress and governors’ mansions who want to cut government funds to civilians to funnel into the military.

The men and women of the armed forces should be respected and praised for their service to our nation. However, these individuals should not forget that, during their time as federal employees, their healthcare was funded by the American taxpayers, including the “working poor.” Those who have not had to deal with private health insurance companies, which seek profit by maximizing premiums and minimizing payouts, should tread cautiously when considering giving them more power in our society.

Older congressmen, including John McCain, are insulated from their healthcare votes by both their federal health insurance and, upon immediate retirement, Medicare. By virtue of age, they have already reached the single-payer health insurance universally given to those 65 and older.  McCain, and many of his Republican fellows, never again have to worry whether a hospital stay will lead to bankruptcy. For those whose pre-political careers were entirely in the military, medical bankruptcies were never a concern.

Unfortunately, these bankruptcies are a concern to many people in Arizona, including military veterans. As he recuperates, Senator McCain should contemplate the healthcare he has received and ask himself how he would fare under privatized health insurance. 

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