I had fallen asleep, sitting up, with the remote in my hands when my husband came running upstairs with the news.
It was about 1:30 a.m. Normally, he’d be reporting a dramatic walkoff home run win — or clumsy defeat — by his beloved Braves, which he DVRs daily. (Yes, it’s a verb.)
Not this time. This was about a vote in Congress.
My sports writer husband had been glued to the TV for hours as the clock ticked down to the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal or replace or just do something to Obamacare.
There he was, flipping back and forth between channels in his best sports fan mode — not between ESPN and Fox Sports but cable news and C-SPAN.
Yes, C-SPAN, the drama-free cable satellite public affairs network known for broadcasting congressional hearings, book readings, press conferences and other programs to fall asleep by.
Being the news junkie that I am, I have occasionally tuned into C-SPAN. He insists he’s watched it before, too; I have my doubts.
But Thursday night, apparently, lots of American households tuned in to watch Sen. John McCain join two other independent-minded Republican women to block the GOP’s efforts for a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.
It was high theater. CNN commentators analyzed McCain’s body language and quiet conversations with key Democrats and Republicans on the Senate floor leading up to the vote. He waited until his two colleagues, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, cast their “no” votes before marching to the front of the chamber, raising his hand, then turning a thumbs-down and proclaiming a firm, “No.”
Audible gasps, and some clapping, could be heard. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood a few feet away with his arms folded, glaring.
I don’t know what was playing in McCain’s head. Maybe this was payback for Donald Trump’s insults. Maybe, facing newly diagnosed brain cancer, McCain didn’t care about the politics anymore. Maybe he wanted to make sure what could be one of his last big votes reflected his principles.
McCain, no fan of Obamacare, had made a speech earlier in the week criticizing Republicans for the one-sided process leading up to the vote. Obamacare passed without a single GOP vote, he said, and Republicans were now doing the same thing. It was time, he said, for the normal two-party legislative process to resume. Hear, hear.
I do know why my husband was watching. To be honest, he’s been fascinated by Washington news ever since the unconventional (to say the least) Trump presidency began. But this issue could be a matter of life or death for him.
He has significant medical issues and could face major surgery again in the coming years. Things like lifetime limits, mandatory coverage and pre-existing conditions all have a direct impact on his life. On my life. On our children’s future.
We are fortunate to have group insurance coverage through our employer, shielded from some of the more dramatic impacts of Obamacare or the proposed GOP alternatives.
We haven’t had to navigate the health care marketplace and buy our own insurance. We don’t live in a county with only one choice, or no choices, on the Obamacare insurance exchange. We likely wouldn’t be among those who would lose coverage under the GOP proposals.
But things have been changing so quickly in this back-room process that it’s hard to say what might happen. And that’s scary.
I know Obamacare isn’t a panacea. I know some people who can’t afford coverage under it. I know Americans don’t like being forced to buy something they don’t think they need. I know the tax on generous employer plans seems counterintuitive. But it’s also brought health care to millions of other people for the first time.
Our own insurance rates have gone up significantly in recent years — but they were doing that before Obamacare passed, too.
I’m not here to debate what would work best for our huge, expensive, complicated health-care system. I honestly don’t know.
I share the apprehensions about government bureaucracies. But I know the private market has its own issues.
Insurance companies aren’t necessarily your friend. I’ve had many battles with their representatives, on the phone, via emails, through letters and appeals. The paperwork can bury you.
I remember the fear when my father was in the hospital for nine long months before he died, wondering how on Earth our family was going to pay the costs above his insurance cap.
Later, after my husband’s first hospitalization, I remember the relief I felt when a friend pointed out that we wouldn’t have to worry about that under Obamacare, because lifetime coverage limits were banned.
So yes, this vote meant something to us, something much more personal than a political debate.
Millions of Americans like me, some better off and some worse, are watching this process, wondering how it will affect their own insurance, their own medical care, their children’s health.
So I get more than a little annoyed when I see politicians focused on the process and political ramifications rather than the policy. When I see the president tweet, the morning after the vote, “As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”
It’s time for Republicans and Democrats to man (and woman) up and start talking across the aisle to fix this thing. Real lives are at stake.
There has to be a better way.
Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, [email protected] or Twitter.com/jawurth.