Protest fatigue — it’s two and a half minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

The Senate will vote next week on a Republican proposal for a new healthcare act that has the potential to dismantle healthcare for more than a fourth of the country — this includes Republican voters.

There are more than 4,500 new diagnoses of cancer every day, in the US; almost ten percent of these cancers are diagnosed in children. Because the overall rate of deaths from cancer has declined, the numbers of cancer survivors has increased over the years. All these individuals will always have cancer in their medical history and medical records. From the perspective of a survivor, if you dwell on it, this can be quite unsettling. Add to this the increasing likelihood of healthcare as you know it being pulled out from under you, and any stability that you may have cobbled together is now threatened.

Of the many issues I have with the current healthcare proposal, perhaps the one that sticks in the craw the most is an absence of support for preexisting medical conditions. There is no guarantee for insuring people with preexisting conditions. And definitely no guarantee for affordable insurance for people with preexisting conditions. According to a January 2017 brief from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, using a broad definition of preexisting conditions, there may be as many as 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, some with more than one preexisting condition. “Narrow definition of preexisting conditions” applies to those conditions covered by state-run programs, when individuals were rejected by private insurers, prior to the ACA (for example, history of heart disease or cancer). The “broad definition of preexisting conditions” extends this to include additional common health conditions that are included in the ACA (for example, arthritis, asthma, high cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity) and behavioral health disorders (including alcohol and substance use disorders, and depression).

Taken from the January 2017 brief from HHS. MEPS is the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

If the current proposal, scheduled to be voted on September 30 passes, the situation will be dire for at least a quarter, if not more Americans. Data from statistical models, and exhortations from healthcare providers have all decried this healthcare proposal. To no avail.

Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows: on Wednesday, we learnt that the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, both oppose the current iteration of the proposal, as do patient activists. Needless to say, this new opposition from the health insurance sector has caused the proponents of the proposal some concern. The bill needs 51 votes for it to pass; there are 52 Republican senators. Senator Rand Paul has made it clear that he will not vote for this proposal; Senators McCain, Collins, and Murkowski all voted “no” in summer, but none of them have stated their opinion as clearly as Rand Paul has. Only one of them needs to vote “no” on September 30, and this proposal will fail.

If you are currently covered for healthcare by your employer, you are likely to be unaffected should this proposal pass. But you are also likely to know someone whose healthcare will have been reduced to an unacceptable level, both in terms of price and coverage.

Life is just a step away from death, and death is a preexisting condition. Every cell in your body has it’s own doomsday clock, that ticks down to the number of times a cell can divide, until it can’t anymore. Most people don’t focus on this preexisting condition, nor should they in the normal course of events. Yet, with the healthcare crisis in the US, many people have been experiencing a sense of impending doom, as they have for other reasons through the course of this year. It started in January with the immigration order and travel ban, and continues unabated. At the sign of each political atrocity, people raised their voices and spoke out and effected change, or at a minimum interrupted malevolent actions.

But it’s usually the same people who stand up and protest, and with all the responsibilities that each of us has in our lives, carving out chunks of time and energy becomes harder with each passing day. The Doomsday Clock which had been at three minutes to midnight since 2015, moved thirty seconds closer to catastrophe earlier this year. “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

Wise public officials, and protest weary wise citizens, together can slow down if not stop the Doomsday Clock. The clock for healthcare, for immigration, for education, for equality, for peace, for humanity. Call and write to your elected officials and tell them to act responsibly, keeping the interests of the electorate in mind, rather than their own.

Deepti is a scientist & now, a research analyst at Yale University. She runs Tilde Cafe, a forum to demystify science & make it accessible (www.tildecafe.org)