Senate Republicans stumbled all over themselves trying to ram through a so-called healthcare bill. What they produced instead was an embarrassing mess that would systematically dismantle Medicaid and give huge tax breaks to the super-wealthy.
They got there through pathetic political strategy. Fortunately it’s backfired. The ineptitude of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has led to speculation that maybe he never wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare in the first place.
Recent polls have shown only 12 to 17 percent of Americans support the Senate plan. Last week an unscientific online survey by the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle tallied 88 percent opposition to the plan backed by Wyoming U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso.
Both were members of the all-white, all-male committee that drafted their party’s bill in secret, giving Enzi and Barrasso undeniable ownership of this fiasco. Even in ultra-red Wyoming, voters won’t tolerate abysmal performance and misrepresentation from their Senators.
Republican senators tried to foist the bill’s supposed “benefits” on an often gullible public, but a majority of Americans now realize that “hey, Obamacare isn’t bad after all” compared to the stinkbomb Republicans have thrown together to replace it.
Hailing the release of their draft bill, Enzi bragged about the “months of hard work” Senate Republicans spent on it. Months? GOP lawmakers had seven years to craft an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. They never showed us a plan during all that time. Instead they clung to “no” as their sole vision for an issue that accounts for one-sixth of the country’s economy. They didn’t even bother to scratch something out on a napkin.
Then, when it comes time to produce, they spent a few weeks scrambling behind closed doors. No wonder they ended up throwing a Hail Mary pass that wobbled and landed with an unholy thud. Or was it a Hail Mitch pass? Since McConnell preferred operating the D.C. branch of the He-Man Women-Haters Club to allowing female senators in his own party to contribute, I doubt Mary would want her name used.
Even with a 52 member majority in the Senate and a willingness to subvert tradition by circumventing filibusters, McConnell still couldn’t muster the simple majority needed to pass this dog. Conservative and moderate factions agree they want to win re-election, but they’re miles apart on how to accomplish their mission.
About the only thing Republicans can agree on is that they promised to get rid of Obamacare. When McConnell’s June 30 vote deadline expired Friday, President Trump urged the Senate to repeal the ACA now and replace it later. Six months ago he warned it would be a huge mistake to repeal the current system and let healthcare deteriorate without a plan to protect millions who would be affected by the move.
Barrasso claims the bill “safeguards Medicaid for the most vulnerable and needy.” That’s a huge whopper from the former orthopedic surgeon who swapped his practice for the political career that has carried him to the Senate’s number four leadership position. Meanwhile, Enzi says “states will have more flexibility to see that the aged, the poor, the sick are actually taken care of.”
Flexibility? Here’s the truth: Republicans have proposed cutting Medicaid by nearly $800 billion, with much of the savings going to the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center estimates the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — those who make $5 million or more per year — would receive an average annual tax break of $250,000. The top 1 percent, earning $875,000 or more, would save $45,500 annually.
Middle-class earners making between $55,000 and $93,000 per year would get a $280 tax break. The bottom 20 percent of taxpayers would save an average of $180.
What do low-to-middle class taxpayers get for their gift to the wealthy? Most will receive significantly worse health insurance. Up to 35 percent of those now on Medicaid will lose coverage entirely.
The feds can’t simply hand-off Medicaid costs to the states. Many states, including Wyoming, are already facing critical budget deficits and planning cuts to education and services for the poor, elderly and disabled — the very people Barrasso and Enzi say they want to protect.
To keep Medicaid services at current levels Wyoming would have to raise taxes. What are the chances our GOP-led state house would agree to do that? Under Trumpcare, they could, and history suggests would, simply walk away from a host of fiscal and social obligations by throwing people off Medicaid.
One of the most egregious lies Republicans have told Americans is that their bill will continue to protect people with preexisting conditions. Consumers are in for a shock when they discover that companies will be able to drop such protection if their state receives a waiver from the obligation to cover portions of what Obamacare deems 10 essential health benefits. With such a waiver insurers will also be able to market policies that fail to cover doctors’ services, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, prescription drugs, pregnancy and childbirth, and mental health services. You’d better believe that the GOP spin doctors can’t wait to celebrate desperate citizens with such worthless shell policies as “taken care of.”
Given the continued downturn in the state’s economy, it’s virtually guaranteed Wyoming will be one of the first states in the waiver application line.
Throughout the country people who can still afford to buy health insurance under Trumpcare would pay cheaper premiums. But millions more — especially older and sicker Americans — would be priced out of the market and left without health insurance. That’s unthinkable. Our country is better than that.
Even with Obamacare, which has added 20 million to the health insurance rolls, more than 11 percent of adult Americans are still uninsured. Either of the Republicans’ House or Senate proposals would send that figure hurtling in the wrong direction.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the Senate version would cause 22 million people to lose their health insurance by 2026, two million fewer than the House’s bill. Many of them are Medicaid recipients. About half of all babies born in the U.S. and two-thirds of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid. That’s one out of every five Americans.
Barrasso promised that the bill will have “broad input from healthcare providers, patients and every member of the U.S. Senate.” Wyoming hospitals, physicians and nursing homes have blasted the bill. There have been no public hearings at which they can testify.
Vickie Diamond, CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, told the Casper Star-Tribune that some of the state’s rural hospitals would likely be forced to close.
WMC spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer noted that Wyoming has an aging population, and that increased premiums for residents who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare would be “devastating.” Nursing homes would have to turn away some seniors in need. Where are they supposed to go?
But it’s all well and good when you can vilify a bogey man alternative. True to form, Enzi and Barrasso have been quick to parrot the party line of Obamacare’s “death spiral” — all while standing on Obamacare’s neck.
Following seven years of obstruction and sabotage, McConnell now whines that Democrats won’t work with Republicans. As long as the repeal of Obamacare is on the table, he’s right.
After the embarrassing way the GOP squandered its opportunity to improve the current law, the public needs to tell them to act like adults, lose the huge tax giveaways to the wealthy and work with Democrats to actually improve the healthcare system we have now.
If you see Senators Enzi and Barrasso or Representative Cheney during our delegation’s holiday break, let them know they have to stop playing these reckless games with our nation’s healthcare.