Joseph Q. Jarvis: Support the American Health Security Project

Reforming U.S. health care system requires a heavy political lift.

(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video provided by Senate Television, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 25, 2017. At 1:29 a.m. on July 28, McCain strode onto the Senate floor. The 80-year-old, just weeks after a diagnosis of aggressive brain cancer, was poised to cast the tiebreaker vote on the GOP’s health care bill, in what was meant to be the fulfillment of seven years of work to undo President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. McCain paused for a moment, and then gave the measure a thumbs-down.

Over my 30 years of health system reform advocacy, I have met with dozens of state and federal legislators and their staff members, offered testimony before many legislative committees in Nevada, Colorado and Utah and spoken to both Democratic and Republican platform committees, delegates and interest groups.

These many encounters have taught me that politics, meaning the alignment with party and special interests, is more important to elected officials than any human experience or set of facts. Those of us who are trying to change how Americans do health care business must recognize that health system reform is about politics. No amount of education or marching to the draw attention to the plight of American patients will change the grip of the medical industrial complex on business as usual in American health care. Health system reform is first a very heavy political lift, meaning it is a power grab, meaning someone’s ox must be gored.

To that end I announce the formation of a new Super PAC, or political action committee, which will be called The American Health Security Project. The project will be a political platform for a grass roots effort to hammer home the message first articulated in Congress by the late Sen. John McCain. In 2017, after he received the diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, he returned to Congress to vote on the “skinny” repeal of Obamacare, which meant repeal but not replace.

Republicans, then holding a slim majority in the United States Senate, had waited for his return before scheduling the vote, because two Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and and Susan Collins pf Maine, had already declared their intent to vote against the “skinny” reform measure. But, if McCain voted for it, a fifty-fifty tie could be realized, which would then be broken in favor of passage by then-Vice President Mike Pence. With the voting held open on the Senate floor, McCain was personally lobbied by Pence and then took a call from then-President Donald Trump in the cloakroom of the Senate.

Despite those efforts, he returned to the floor of the Senate and voted against the bill, later stating: “Our health care insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something must be done.”

That will be the message of the American Health Security Project. American health care is a mess. Everyone knows it. Something beyond politics must be done.

All Americans are health insecure. None of us know whether members of our families will have the funding and care that might be needed to save lives and livelihoods. Democrats and Republicans alike have been successfully exploiting our health insecurities to drive us apart and then win elections which allow each party in turn to govern us with force and harshness, denying us the care that we need.

It is time to stop placing our time, efforts, and resources at the behest of either major political party, when what we get in return is the indifference and posturing that I have seen on Capitol Hill for 30 years.

I invite all Americans to change political habits. If you routinely identify with either major party in the United States, instead of helping them, from now on bring the dollars and the doing that you usually donate to candidates and political causes to The American Health Security Project.

You can find The American Health Security Project online at https://americanhealthsecurityproject.org.

Joseph Jarvis

Joseph Q. Jarvis, M.D., MSPH, is a public health physician and author of “The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care.”