Commentary: The Utah delegation’s race against truth

“One big lie, that I repeated a lot of times,” former competitive cyclist Lance Armstrong said, sitting on Oprah’s couch, finally admitting to years of doping and outright deceit. Speaking of his belated apology to his fans and supporters, he added, “This is too late, it’s too late for probably most people. And that’s my fault.”

As an emergency room physician and a Republican, I’m often reminded of Armstrong’s years of denial and his inevitable moment of truth, and I wonder when Utah’s Congressional delegation will face their time on the couch when it comes to healthcare policy. For years now our entire delegation has told us that they had a plan to solve the healthcare problems Utahns face: out of control cost increases, limited access to care, and, since 2009, the negative side effects of the ACA, or “Obamacare.”

We now see that our Utah delegation and their friends in Washington were repeating a big lie: they have no real plan, and they never did. They are throwing together hastily written bills hoping to cover this lie. These fake plans have real potential to harm Utahns.

Take the latest such plan, the failed Senate bill known as “Graham-Cassidy.” This “plan” was condemned by a broad consortium of healthcare industry experts, including doctors, hospitals, and even insurance companies, who released a rare joint statement urging the Senate to scrap the bill entirely. They warned that it would “cause patients and consumers to lose important protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions.” At least 77 top healthcare organizations urged the Senate to drop the bill. How many healthcare organizations supported it? Zero.

It’s not just industry experts who disliked this bill. Only about 20 percent of Americans supported Graham-Cassidy, and even among Republicans, the bill failed to win over the majority. The GOP senate leadership knew it was weak and indefensible—which is why they did not hold any real hearings or debate. Our own Sen. Orrin Hatch joined in the pretense that this was a viable plan by holding the Senate’s sole hearing on the bill, in his Finance Committee. The bill was scheduled for 90 seconds of floor debate.

Rep. Mia Love has been just as reckless. She enthusiastically supported the AHCA, another ill-conceived “health care” bill unanimously opposed by provider and patient groups, and supported by a scant 25 percent of voters. The Susan G. Komen Foundation pleaded with representatives like Love to vote against the bill, citing the harm it would do to breast cancer patients. They warned that Love’s vote would “add significant economic burdens on women and men already facing a fight for their lives.”

Every day in the ER, I treat your friends and neighbors who unexpectedly find themselves facing a fight for their lives. Overcoming their particular medical diagnoses is challenge enough, but I also see my patients discovering the traps and snares of our country’s healthcare system. Every day I see the impact of Love’s inability to help Utahns find real solutions. While she is out promising to ease the burden of racing health care costs, I see what is really happening to her constituents.

If I treated my patients the way Love and Hatch treat them, I would prescribe untested, poorly thought-through treatments, universally scorned by all professionals in my field, without consulting any research or other doctors — and I would lose my privilege to practice medicine.

How long can Mia Love and Orrin Hatch continue in their positions when they support legislation that is unanimously regarded as legislative malpractice? How long will we believe their empty promises?

In 2018, when voters have the opportunity to provide some much needed accountability, we will hear a lot of excuses here in Utah. It’s Obama’s fault. It’s McCain’s fault. It’s anyone’s fault but theirs. Should I write Hatch’s excuses on a prescription pad and give them to a struggling patient? When you find an invoice in your mailbox for yet another premium increase for your family’s health plan, will Love’s 2018 campaign pay the difference?

In 2018, you and I will remember Lance Armstrong’s fervent denial of his professional and personal misconduct that came crashing down on Oprah’s couch, and we will wonder when the Utah delegation will face their moment of truth. Will they ever have the integrity to admit that their promise to protect our healthcare was one big lie, repeated many times? When will they realize that it’s too late to expect us to trust them?

Jeremy Voros is an Emergency Room physician practicing in Salt Lake County and cofounder of “U Work 4 Utah”, a nonpartisan political action organization whose mission is to remind elected representatives in Utah that they work for Utahns.