It’s not all relative

Paul Waldman with an important reminder on the latest iteration of the Republican Senate health care bill:

Senate Republicans are releasing the latest version of their health-care plan today, and there’s a temptation to focus solely on what’s changed from the previous iteration. The changes are important, and we have to understand them. But what we shouldn’t do is allow a relative judgment (maybe it’s better in this way but worse in that way) to distract us from the big picture, because what’s still in the bill from before is even more important than what has changed.

The big picture is that this bill is an absolute nightmare that would cause a spectacular amount of human suffering — and yes, even deaths — if it were to pass. It would mean fewer people with coverage, more people having trouble affording coverage, less protection and less security.

Let’s go through the major provisions in the bill…

  • The bill would utterly eviscerate Medicaid, which is relied on by tens of millions of poor, elderly and disabled Americans. It would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the program. It would also transform the program into a block grant, for the first time allowing states to kick enrollees off their coverage and cut back benefits.
  • The bill allows insurers to sell bare-bones plans that go by the name “insurance” but cover very little, as long as they also offer a plan that meets the “essential health benefits” requirement of the ACA. This in effect sets up two pools, one containing young and healthy people, and one containing people who are older or who have more serious health needs. The insurance industry, along with many analysts, predict that this could produce a death spiral of skyrocketing costs for those with preexisting conditions…

If your Republican senator votes for this plan, he or she is supporting gutting Medicaid, taking away health coverage from at least 20 million Americans and potentially the end of real protections for those with preexisting conditions, higher deductibles, less help for those with modest incomes, potentially the return of lifetime limits on coverage (outlawed by the ACA), which turn a health-care challenge into a financial calamity, and an attack on women’s health choices.

In short, this bill is an abomination. No one should be able to get away with saying, “Well, it’s a little better than it was before.” All that does is obscure how spectacularly cruel it is. [emphasis mine]

Of course, that’s what many “moderate” Republicans will surely say.  At this point, the really big question is just how many.

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It’s not just extinction

I recently posted an interesting Atlantic piece arguing that, while we obviously have some serious problems, the evidence is just not there for us undergoing a true extinction event.  That said, very nice piece from Ed Yong that emphasizes looking at only extinction can be a misleading metric as to the threats to our environment:

Imagine if every animal and plant on the planet collapsed into a single population each, says ecologist Gerardo Ceballos. If lions disappeared except from one small corner of Kenya, the prey they keep in check would run amok everywhere else. If sparrows were no more except in one Dutch forest, the seeds that sparrows disperse would stay in place everywhere else. If honeybees became isolated to one American meadow, the flowers that they pollinate would fail to reproduce everywhere else. None of those species would be extinct per se, “but we’d still be in very bad shape,” says Ceballos.

He uses this thought experiment to show that fixating on the concept of extinction can lead scientists to overestimate the state of the planet’s health. Extinction obviously matters. If a species is completely wiped out, that’s an important and irreversible loss. But that flip from present to absent, extant to extinct, is just the endpoint of a long period of loss. Before a species disappears entirely, it first disappears locally. And each of those local extinctions—or extirpations—also matters.

“If jaguars become extinct in Mexico, it doesn’t matter if there are still jaguars in Brazil for the role that jaguars play in Mexican ecosystems,” says Ceballos. “Or we might able to keep California condors alive forever, but if there are just 10 or 12 individuals, they won’t be able to survive without human intervention. We’re missing the point when we focus just on species extinction.”  …

“The real trouble with mass extinctions, from a modern perspective, is that it’s really hard to know you’re in one before it’s too late,” says Jacquelyn Gill from the University of Maine. “By the time you compile the casualty list, the damage is done. What’s really powerful about [Ceballos’s new] study is that it focuses not on the losses, but on the early warning signals. Population declines are a common precursor to extinction, and it’s a process we can actually do something about.”

Alright, then, let’s do something about it.

Photo of the day

Closest ever photo of Jupiter’s great red spot:

NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt

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