Rather than laboring endlessly on partisan health care legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer should work together to write a bill that would represent the interests of all Americans.
Another purely partisan health care bill (Obamacare was passed without a single Republican vote) would do nothing to ensure long-term certainty in the American health care system. It would, however, ensure that health care reform remains a bitter topic of discussion on talk shows and the internet for years to come, with Democrats sure to change things once they regain power.
Senator John McCain, who left a hospital bed while recovering from brain surgery, cast his vote and then gave a speech in which he said, "We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That's an approach that's been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires. We're getting nothing done. ... What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We're not getting much done apart."
Senator McCain is right.
Republicans, who have spent the last seven years trying to repeal Obamacare, now are trying to pass a modified version of it, or, failing that, to repeal Obamacare outright. Specifically, Republicans want to remove the requirement for most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a tax.
Obamacare relied on healthy Americans to pay premiums that covered the costs of insuring the sickest Americans. That did not work so well in practice, however, as some large insurers had begun dropping out of the program.
The latest version of the bill, emerging last week, would allow insurance companies to begin selling cheaper, stripped-down policies to healthy people at low cost. To compensate for this, it would appropriate more federal funds to states to help reduce premiums for everyone else. People also could use health savings accounts, with their built-in tax advantages, to pay premiums.
It's an interesting compromise that roughly meets the demands of senators such as Utah’s Mike Lee. People ought to have a wide array of options when choosing health insurance.
However, the bill also retains spending reductions to Medicaid, requiring that the entitlement program be funded through fixed payments to states, rather than as an open-ended entitlement. Over the next nine years, total spending on Medicaid would drop by $772 billion, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Medicaid provides a variety of services to the poorest Americans. It helps provide care and equipment for children born with severe disabilities, and long-term care for people with chronic illnesses. It allows patients to live independently and choose their physicians, and to obtain preventative care.
While we support fiscal accountability, reducing the funding for these services would hurt the poorest citizens and not be in the nation’s best interest. Society would end up paying for the health needs of the poor one way or another, and without proper Medicaid funding the costs are bound to be higher in the long run as people allow health problems to fester.
The Senate’s bill is not a repeal of Obamacare. It is a reworking of it, but the basic framework remains in place. Many Democrats have acknowledged that Obamacare contains flaws that need to be tweaked. That sounds as if both parties have the same goal in mind.
We see no reason why Republicans and Democrats shouldn’t work together to make these tweaks as representative of the nation’s collective interests as possible.