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As coronavirus surges, Trump tries to dismantle healthcare for millions

As coronavirus surges, Trump tries to dismantle healthcare for millions
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He is at it again. This time, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE is attempting to destroy the Affordable Care Act in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Just in the past 11 days, we've set the record for largest daily increase in the number of new cases seven times. Clearly, the pandemic has not been brought under control. Despite the Republicans’ repeated and failed efforts to repeal Obamacare, Trump’s Justice Department, together with several state attorneys general, have asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Imagine that you have lost your job, your health insurance, and contracted COVID-19. You survive, but are left with scarring on your lungs or a cardiac infirmity. If Trump has his way, you will be excluded from purchasing health insurance. Going into the 2020 election, polls indicate that healthcare is Americans' highest concern. If Trump were attempting to sabotage his chances at re-election he could not choose a better issue at a more opportune time.

Not only could Trump’s timing not be worse politically, but it is a moral abomination. More than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. With a health insurance system in which coverage for many is tagged to employment, the loss of a job also means the loss of healthcare. In this reality, purchasing Obamacare or accessing Medicaid, which has been expanded by Obamacare for those states who opted in, can be the only lifeline. The overturning of Obamacare, however, will leave 23 million stripped of coverage and will, once again, permit insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. This will leave a staggering 133 million Americans potentially bereft of health insurance.

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Despite the zeal to destroy Obamacare, Trump and his fellow Republicans offer nothing substantial to put in its place.

As a leader in the Ethical Culture movement and as a professor of human rights at Columbia University, I am most concerned with the ethical consequences of Trump’s and his Republican colleagues’ initiative to destroy the ACA. Both Ethical Culture and the study of human rights make the preservation of dignity their central priority. A society committed to human flourishing — which entails recognition of economic rights — is among our highest concerns.

As is well-known, the American healthcare system is the most expensive in the industrialized world and produces the worst outcomes. This can be traced conceptually to the fact that the United States, in contrast with Western Europe, Canada and many other countries, does not construe economic rights, including health care, as human rights. The consequence is that the capacity to purchase healthcare is a privilege, not an entitlement, and as such is subject to politics, the vicissitudes of the market and an individual’s financial wherewithal. But health is not a consumer item such as a car or a new iPhone. No one chooses to become sick. Health and illness are constitutive of the human condition; therefore, access to healthcare for all should be a responsibility of society as a whole, no less than education or our common defense. 

The humanism of Ethical Culture has long recognized this. The Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, of which I am the professional leader, is a member of two coalitions supporting universal healthcare. As far back as 1951, the national association of Ethical Culture Societies, the American Ethical Union, advocated that the United States ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in which the right to healthcare is proclaimed as a fundamental human right.

The United States has yet to ratify the covenant.

The common obligation to support the health of all our citizens would move us ahead in creating a decent society. The absence of that guarantee, and moreover eliminating the ability of people to safeguard their health, especially in the midst of the pandemic and in a time of economic crisis and heightened anxiety, is morally reprehensible. In response to Trump’s appeal to the Supreme Court to eliminate the ACA, Speaker of the House Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVoters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus MORE (D-Calif.) said, it’s “an act of unspeakable cruelty.” From an ethical standpoint, that assessment should brook no dissent.

Dr. Joseph Chuman is the clergy leader for Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County in New Jersey. He is also professor of Human Rights at Columbia University.