Opinion

Michael A. Cohen

Yet another cynical GOP ploy on health care

FILE-- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at a news conference on health care legislation, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 13, 2017. Just when the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act appeared to be dead, a last-ditch push to obliterate the law could be nearing a showdown vote in the Senate, and a handful of Republicans insist they are closing in on the votes. The leaders of the latest repeal effort, which included Graham, say their drive is gaining momentum. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)
Tom Brenner/The New York Times
Senator Lindsey Graham discussed his proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, at a news conference on Sept. 13.

Every time I think the Republican Party is the most cynical, dishonest, corrupt, and downright malevolent political party in the modern political world, it finds a way to surprise me.

Just two months after we’d all thought that Obamacare repeal was dead, the GOP’s ongoing quest to wreck the US health care system and do untold damage to the country by throwing tens of millions of people off insurance rolls, while potentially killing hundreds of thousands (if not more) Americans, continues unabated.

The latest Republican vehicle for repealing and replacing Obamacare is Graham-Cassidy, a bill that would dramatically cut federal health care spending and block-grant remaining monies to the states while not requiring those states to spend the money on expanding care. It would allow state governments to loosen regulations that protect consumers from the rapacious policies of insurance companies, like those that disadvantage Americans with preexisting conditions.

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Even worse, it would basically eliminate the subsidies that have allowed individuals to buy insurance in Obamacare exchanges and would end Medicaid expansion, which is primarily responsible for the increase in insurance coverage under that legislation.

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To be sure, we don’t know exactly how bad Graham-Cassidy will be, because Republicans, who spent eight years accusing Democrats of ramming Obamacare down the throats of the American people, have held no hearings on the legislation. The Congressional Budget Office won’t even be able to fully score it before Senate Republicans plan to vote on it.

Why not wait until the CBO does its job? Here’s the really cynical part. Republicans have until the end of this month to push a health care bill via the budget reconciliation process. That means Republicans would only need 50 votes (plus Vice President Pence) to pass the bill. If they wait until October, it would take 60 votes with a Democratic filibuster.

The result is that Republicans don’t appear to understand what it is they’re voting on.

For example, when asked by reporters from Vox why Graham-Cassidy is an improvement over Obamacare, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said, “My position has always been that, number one, I think Obamacare has been a failure. Number two: First chance I get to vote for repeal it, I’ll do it. And number three: If it’s replacement, if replacement is better than Obamacare, I will vote for it.” Others interviewed regurgitated conservative platitudes about the genius of state governments, all the while glomming over the fact that the bill would take an axe to federal health care spending.

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Amazingly, Kennedy’s home state of Louisiana would be especially hard hit by this legislation. According to Dr. Rebekah Gee, the secretary of health for Louisiana, the bill “uniquely and disproportionately hurts” the state and could cost Louisiana $3.2 billion over the next nine years. By the way, guess who is Louisiana’s other senator? Bill Cassidy.

What we are seeing once again is that Republicans have no interest in legislating and zero interest in policy. They are indifferent to the impact of the health care bills they’ve been debating. They don’t even care about how it will affect their constituents — the people they’ve been elected to represent in Washington.

Indeed, at the same moment that Republicans were resurrecting the repeal effort, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Democrat Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, had been working on a fix-it bill that would deal with some of the shortcomings in Obamacare. But Alexander pulled the plug on that effort Tuesday, undoubtedly in part because of fear that Republicans might view it as a fallback to Graham-Cassidy.

What Republicans do care about, it seems, is getting rid of Obamacare so that it will give them a cheap political talking point and satisfy the deep-pocketed conservative donors who have been pushing the hardest for repeal.

At some point it becomes difficult to find the words to describe precisely how awful this is — and how breathtakingly cruel and cynical the modern Republican Party has become.

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Even if this latest effort fails — as it likely will — Republicans have needlessly terrorized millions of Americans who will spend the next 10 days in fear that they could lose their health insurance. If it does pass, the fear will be that much greater. Moreover, the failure to pass a fix-it bill, and the additional uncertainty injected into the health care system, will undoubtedly cause insurance premiums to spike – a process that it already taking place.

While hopefully Graham-Cassidy will find a place in the trashcan alongside past GOP replacement bills, the sad reality is that a political party devoid of empathy, honesty, intelligence, and integrity will remain the nation’s dominant political party for the foreseeable future. Obamacare might survive; as for the rest of the country, it’s not so clear.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.