Long before Mitch McConnell was attempting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as majority leader of the U.S. Senate, he was fighting for his health as a small child growing up in Alabama — with help from the federal government.
When he was just 2 years old, McConnell was diagnosed with polio, Death and Taxes reported. As McConnell explained to his Senate colleagues in 2005, his mother had been “perplexed about what to do“; his father was serving overseas in World War II at the time, and — as these were the days before Medicaid or Medicare — health care options were limited. McConnell’s mother worried her son might become disabled.
McConnell was fortunate to live a short drive away from Warm Springs, Georgia, where a polio rehab center had been established by President Roosevelt.
It was funded, in large part, through public efforts.
In the mid-1930s, roughly a decade before McConnell started receiving treatments at the center, Roosevelt’s March of Dimes fundraising strategy for the center grew into a remarkable success. The president had asked Americans to send dimes to the White House in support of children living with polio, and within just one month, $268,000 (about $4.6 million today) had been raised. Kids like McConnell benefited greatly.
“We had left Warm Springs for the last time, and the physical therapist there had told my mother, ‘Your son can walk now,'” an emotional McConnell told the Senate in 2005. “‘We think he’s going to have a normal childhood and a normal life.'”
McConnell’s health scare from seven decades ago —concerning a disease that’s now eradicated in the U.S., no less — is incredibly relevant today.
Children who are in similar circumstances as McConnell once was — kids living with costly, threatening health ailments, whose family situations complicate their access to care — could be harmed greatly should the Republican leader’s attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) be successful.
GOP senators are hovering around the 50-vote threshold to pass an alarmingly heartless bill that would strip Medicaid funding by billions of dollars — a move that’d disproportionately hurt the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. The overhaul would also allow states to drop certain benefits, like maternity care and mental health services, set in place by the Affordable Care Act.
Should the bill become law, wealthy Americans and drug companies — on the receiving end of massive tax breaks — would benefit greatly.
Anxieties over the bill’s passage prompted dozens of demonstrators — many of whom were disabled and use wheelchairs — to protest the deep spending cuts outside McConnell’s office on June 22.
In total, 43 were arrested. Many were forcibly removed.
“People with disabilities depend on Medicaid for our lives and for our liberty,” Stephanie Woodward, one demonstrator who was arrested, explained in an interview.
A video of her chanting, “no cuts to Medicaid,” as Capitol police carried her away from the senator’s office quickly went viral in the protest’s aftermath.
A lot has changed since McConnell’s brush with polio in the 1940s, but the importance of valuing basic compassion in our health care system hasn’t.
If anyone’s experiences underline that, it’s Senator McConnell’s. Let him and every legislator know how you feel when it comes to access to health care.
Call your senator to tell them you don’t support the GOP’s efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.
Please note: Upworthy has reached out to Senator McConnell for comment. This article may be updated.