“If you want your legislation to last, it has to be bi-partisan,” — Ron Johnson, Republican Senator from Wisconsin, told the No Labels Problem Solvers Conference in Arlington, Virginia, on March 1.
He illustrated his observation, echoed the next day by my own Congress member, Anna Eshoo (Democrat – California), by pointing to Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Both were rammed through Congress without a single Republican vote and are now targets of a Republican majority in Congress. Sadly, it appears the House Republicans have not learned the lesson.
Every comment made by House GOP leadership, the White House, and Republican members of the Senate point to a decision to ram the Budget Reconciliation Legislative Recommendations Relating to Repeal and Replace of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through Congress on a party-line vote.
Once again, the victory will be pyloric and short-lived.
Healthcare is 20 percent of the United States economy. It impacts each and every American. It’s a huge problem and it can only be solved through a bi-partisan debate in full view of the American people.
Obamacare Impacts 330 Million Americans
Right after the conference, I shared a lunch table in the Longworth Congressional Office Building cafeteria with a couple from Mississippi.
Just as it does in almost every conversation in the Capitol, healthcare costs came up as we were just sharing our experiences from meeting with our representatives.
Owners of a small business, the Smiths described the difficulty they have in providing health insurance to their employees. The individual monthly premium is $400 a month – split 50/50 between the employee and the employer. “It’s the most we can do to pay half the cost.”
The median income in Mississippi is about $37,000/year – meaning a family of four participating in employer-based health insurance is paying 17 percent of their pre-tax income for health insurance. The policy has very high deductibles. In a word it’s “unaffordable”!
An average family of four in Mississippi is only a few dollars above the federal poverty line. But if their employer offers health insurance, they are not eligible to enroll in Obamacare – where the same monthly premium would be heavily subsidized.
Friday, standing, jet-lagged at my regular grocery store I was chatting with the man standing behind me in line. I said I’d been in Washington and the conversation, inevitably, turned to healthcare. He said he pays $1000 a month to cover his healthy family of four on an employer-based plan.
Before the Obamacare mandated changes in his coverage, he complained, he always had an annual preventive physical. Now, he has to pay $40 for the initial visit, $40 dollars for each of the routine tests and $40 for the follow-up visit. He concluded his prevent care is too expensive when prioritize against co-pays for his children. He figures he will go to the doctor when he gets “really” sick.
Nothing in the newly released GOP plan addresses either of the problems which these accidental meetings illustrate.
- It does nothing to reduce the cost of health insurance because it does nothing to change the underlying healthcare cost crisis.
- It does nothing to reduce the employer-based premium increases triggered by Centers of Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Obamacare mandates.
Healthcare is an Entitlement
The Republicans’ most conservative members are still resisting reality. They claim that they must repeal Obamacare because the country cannot “afford another entitlement”.
Get over it.
- Supreme Court ruled there is a universal right to care for all people at the emergency room door.
- Once the government provides a benefit to some portion of the people – it cannot be taken away – only expanded in the name of equity.
But the conservative wing of the Republican caucus is partially right: The USA cannot afford another entitlement that is not paid for before and after it is granted.
Rather than repeating the mistake the Democrats made when they enacted Obamacare on a party-line vote the Republicans should take the time necessary to craft a bill that clearly addresses the coverage issues and is paid for.
A Down Payment on Reform
Paul Ryan must have been joking when he said “every American should read the bill”. Take a look here.
I read it but I didn’t understand all of it – just like most members of Congress!
Speaker Ryan surely recognizes the importance of slowing down the process of moving the proposed legislation to give his team a chance to garner at least some bi-partisan support for the plan.
That begins with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “scoring the bill”. How many people will get coverage under the American Health Care Act (AHCA) at what cost to the tax payer, and what’s the indirect impact be on employer-based insurance health insurance premiums?
CBO scores are notoriously inaccurate – over-estimating the benefits of legislation and under-estimating the costs. But they offer a starting point for a negotiation.
The current 120 page bill is nothing more than a “strawman” that will be modified by the long process of moving legislation into law.
In business the “strawman” plan is assumed to be a “starting point” — something that every member of the team can “take shots at” (debate and amend) in an effort to improve the proposal and, through participation, to encourage skeptics to “buy-in”.
For example, what-if Republicans (based on CBO estimates) offered to improve out-year Medicaid funding in exchange for Democrats supporting equal tax treatment for Americans with employer-based and private purchased health insurance?
No Democrats may come around to voting for the plan but, at least, the American people will see Ryan and his team willing to compromise to improve the bill.
Because of the limitations of the Congressional Budget Reconciliation process, the AHCA cannot address the underlying problem: the cost of health care. The reality is that no health insurance plan Congress generates can be affordable and effective without addressing the underlying problem.
To insure that Congress takes on the larger problem with urgency, the current bill must be amended to include concrete triggers guaranteeing healthcare cost containment legislation is written, investigated, debated and passed prior to the effective dates of AHCA.
For example Democrats get stronger drug pricing controls and the Republicans get malpractice reform.
Only by incorporating these guarantees in this first bill can we, the people, be assured the subsequent legislation will ever be introduced – let alone passed.
The battle ahead will be fierce — fiery.
Reimagineamerica will continue to observe, educate, clarify (if possible) and prepare each of you to be an active advocate in the battles to come.
Photo Credit: the author’s iPhone with thanks to MSNBC live broadcast