The congressman willing to sacrifice his district for his party

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Representative Don Bacon (R-Neb.) is new to the halls of Congress. He is also relatively new to his district, having grown up in Illinois before relocating to the Omaha area due to his service with the U.S. Air Force. Though not experienced in — or particularly knowledgeable about — health care policy, Bacon ran his campaign for office on a platform that included the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Members of Congress like Bacon represent the worst impulses of a grasping, hungry office seeker. In order to win his party’s primary and eventually a narrow victory in the general election, Bacon reached for the politically expedient policy proposal, in spite of the future human cost to his district of following through.

Newly released data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that in Nebraska, the percentage of uninsured citizens has fallen by 29 percent.

{mosads}That equates to 62,000 Nebraskans gaining coverage due to the ACA. Many of those 62,000 are found in Bacon’s newfound district, which includes the largest population center in the state, the City of Omaha. That number of 62,000 is not boosted by expanded Medicaid rolls, as fellow profile in courage Governor Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) has repeatedly opposed the expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income citizens of his state.

While Bacon occupies a spot as one of Nebraska’s worst examples of mercenary politics in action, he is not alone in his party. In spite of well-established evidence of the human cost of going without health insurance, the Republican Party has become firmly wedded to the idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Now that they hold all branches of the federal government, the threat of these positions to the lives of Americans has become very real.

We should be clear about one thing in the upcoming debate: if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, more Americans will die from health problems that could have been prevented. Many of them will come from Bacon’s district, and the districts of other Republicans that willingly pushed for the destruction of a law that has resulted in millions of Americans gaining access to insurance, some for the first time in their lives.

This is an issue that should motivate everyone, and it motivates me as one of Bacon’s constituents.

My mother died without health insurance. She died from a cancer that was found in a very advanced stage, and which quickly took hold of her body and devastated her last months. As a person without savings and without the ability to pay for preventive care, she never was able to access the screenings which could have found her cancer at an easily treatable, early stage.

Watching her suffer in hospice care from what is referred to as “breakthrough pain” was a difficult experience, to put it mildly. Another difficult experience has been watching representatives like Bacon channel their inner weathervane, shifting with the winds of the moment to follow a policy that will result in more people suffering like my mother did.

As has been noted before, the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act is based off of ideas from a conservative think tank. It is a reasonable requirement to ensure that health care can continue to be enabled through a system of mostly private insurers, while allowing for provisions that no one can be denied care for a pre-existing condition. Removing the individual mandate results in the exchange based system falling apart, with insurers pulling out of the system.

Bacon — and representatives like him — have the power to sacrifice lives in their district by allowing the current system to fall apart. They know that they don’t have a better plan to turn to, otherwise they would have campaigned on one. But they are willing to campaign on the promises of repealing a complicated but effective set of health care reforms in order to reap short term political benefit.

Potentially sacrificing some of their constituents’ lives on the altar of “repeal and replace” isn’t an outlier of cowardice shown by Bacon, it is the modern Republican calling card. A brave and worthy public servant would defend the vulnerable and the suffering in their district by standing up for a plan that has dramatically decreased the number of uninsured Nebraskans, and Americans as a whole.

That must explain why Bacon is sitting with his new colleagues in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and to his district. We all deserve better from the 115th Congress.

Michael Connolly is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council and is vice president of communications for the Ivy League Veterans Council. A former Army staff sergeant who served in the infantry, Connolly completed two combat tours to Iraq, from 2005 to 2006 and 2007 to 2008. He currently serves as director of Military and Veterans Affairs for the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland-College Park.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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