In denying health care for the vulnerable, why are we smiling?

After eight hours of debate, House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the vice-chair, listen to arguments Wednesday  from committee chairs as the panel meets to shape the final version of the Republican health care bill before it goes to the floor for debate and a vote  J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press

The chances are improving that today a group of well-off individuals — Congress — will cheer, shake hands, and slap each other on the back, celebrating their big win in the political arena.

They will have voted to take health care away from old people and the disabled.

Just one question: Why isn’t this a somber occasion?

To be sure, the health care debate is about the country’s dominant organized religion — politics. But surely even those faithful least likely to cut through the fog of politics must see the humanity that’s involved with the occasion. How can you not? It’s all around us.

Ethan Kelly, age 21, who has cerebral palsy, gets help from his mother. Pat Wellenbach | AP file

Overnight, according to news reports, the House Freedom Caucus — the most conservative of the conservative Republican delegation — was willing to trade its vote for the removal of “essential health benefits” from the Republican replacement. That’s coverage for mental health services, for example.

The Republicans say the bill would reduce premiums and to an extent that’s true, unless you’re over 50, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s report, which says the premiums will skyrocket over the next few years for that age group. To the extent they drop for the younger people, it’s mostly because the insurance they buy won’t cover much.

The debate to now has mostly been partisan and academic, radio shows like Indivisible Radio, for example, that consider what is a “right” and what is a “responsibility” when it comes to health care for others. It’s an earnest discussion involving politicians and pointyheads who won’t have a health care problem regardless of what happens today.

It’s great talk show fare that gins up callers, but it does nothing to force us to look at the most vulnerable and to look at ourselves in the mirror or look at the pols on the House floor today and ask, “why are we smiling?”

“Our plan says in order to preserve Medicaid for the truly vulnerable — kids, [the] elderly, [the] disabled — we’ve got to reform this,” Minnesota GOP U.S. House Rep. Jason Lewis told constituents, according to a report Thursday by MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik.

That’s an assertion contrary to the Star Tribune’s story today that shows exactly the opposite.

By 2025, the Star Tribune’s investigation found, half of the coverage losses in Minnesota will be disabled people.

“It is potentially going to have a devastating impact,” said Jeffrey Nachbar, a lobbyist with the Roseville-based Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, tells the Strib. “The biggest impact is going to be on services that help keep people independent.”

Delores Flynn, 72, of Roseville said the legislation makes her fear for the future. For the past 16 years, Flynn has relied on Medical Assistance to fund home-care services for her 46-year-old son, Scott Semo, who suffered a severe brain hemorrhage.

The family relies on a network of personal care attendants to help Scott eat, bathe, and walk, and to perform a range of complicated tasks, such as suctioning his breathing tube five times a day. Were it not for this regular care, her son could die from an infection or choke on the mucus from his breathing tube, Flynn said.

“There is no humanity in this,” Flynn said. “My son has a right to live like everyone else.”

Currently, about 64,000 Minnesotans with disabilities and the elderly receive home and community-based services through Medical Assistance, with a median cost per recipient in 2015 of $22,000. The services include help with eating, dressing and transportation to and from jobs.

The cynical view is that the House will pass the legislation, and then send it to the Senate, hoping the adults there will bring a more sober focus on the task, allowing reps like Lewis to campaign on having fulfilled their promises.

Maybe cutting health care for the mentally ill, the elderly, and the disabled is simply the price of freedom, a price someone else will bear so that we may enjoy its benefits — collateral damage for the greater good.

If that’s who we are, then that’s who we are.

But can we please stop smiling?