WASHINGTON – House Republicans, finally realizing the futility of voting 50 times to repeal Obamacare, last week moved their own plans to totally replace the vast program. What they came up with is essentially stone soup, with some roof tacks, zippers and sawdust thrown in.
The list of initiatives, according to published reports, shows the way House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other mainstream Republicans like Rep. Tom Reed of Corning have made a humiliating peace with the tea party.
“Tea party,” remember, is now a lazy reporter’s phrase for hard-right, antediluvian conservatives backed by big-money Washington lobbyists. It has nothing to do with the grass-roots, kaffeeklatsch movement of the last decade. That went kaput after the 2010 midterm elections.
When tea party comes to mind today, think House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who holds the trap-door trigger on Boehner, and unusual individuals like Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Louie Gohmert of Texas.
Ultraconservative House leaders, like GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, want to test-market health care notions in a series of town hall-style meetings. Better they should float them in closed-door fundraising dinners after cordials are served.
Nowhere among the ideas the GOP has proposed are the most popular, and unfortunately undervalued, parts of Obamacare: The clean-cut patient protection parts of the law. These nationally enforceable laws bar cancellation of insurance because of patient cost, forbid disallowing coverage because of pre-existing conditions and mandate coverage of dependent children up to age 26.
These are codes that progressive Democrats, and even some Republicans who shall now be nameless, have sought for half a century. Added to these are the cooperative health insurance exchanges and expansion of Medicaid that are enjoying success in New York, New Jersey and Ohio – the last two, states run by GOP governors. To compete, the Republicans are considering:
• Expansion of health savings accounts. These are tax-based programs that effectively help rich people. They have zero advantage for families whose income comes from big-box stores.
• Creating insurance pools across state lines, which could complicate if not undermine outright the abilities of states to use new powers under Obamacare to prevent insurers from jacking up premiums without cause.
• High-risk pools, with government subsidies for people denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, according to one New York Times report. But then why bother if you already have Obamacare’s patient protections?
• Preventing abusive malpractice lawsuits.
• Allowing small businesses to engage in risk pools. Those are already available under Obamacare.
Republicans would be much better off politically to cherry-pick at the lavish menu of flaws in Obamacare: the large premium increases that insurers may announce later this spring; President Obama’s untruths about keeping one’s doctor and plan; the political delays in imposing mandates; and the persecution of true religious organizations like colleges, hospitals and nursing homes by mandating coverage of sterilization and abortifacients.
Boehner so far shows neither the stomach nor the leadership clout to persuade Republicans to join in a bipartisan program to plug the holes in Obamacare because the GOP just can’t admit it’s here to stay. Even staunchly conservative Forbes magazine said last week that while the program has serious problems signing up younger, healthy customers, Obamacare “is not failing” either.
Even if the midterms gave Republicans control of both houses, Obamacare isn’t going away with Obama in the White House for almost three more years.