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EDITORIAL

Needed: An end to the GOP’s pointless health care saga

GOP delays vote on health bill until after July 4 break
GOP delays vote on health bill until after July 4 break

Senator Susan Collins came through in the clutch. The Maine Republican and a few other GOP lawmakers stood their ground and, on Tuesday afternoon, forced Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to delay a vote on his misbegotten health care bill, providing a reprieve to the nation’s poorest and sickest. The McConnell bill would have left an estimated 22 million Americans without health insurance, and its failure is a sign that the centrist wing of the GOP still has a pulse.

But the damaging uncertainty that the GOP’s fixation on Obamacare has caused for insurers, state governments, and patients isn’t over. McConnell wants to revive the bill after the Senate’s Independence Day recess. If he does, it will fall to senators like Collins, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski not only to prevent the bill from passing, but also to convince the leadership to end definitively a fiasco that’s injecting needless turmoil into the health care system.

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McConnell yanked the legislation after a revolt by both conservative and centrist Republicans, who threatened to prevent the bill from even coming to the Senate floor. Although the leadership tried to present its bill as the fulfillment of its longtime promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the legislation actually left big parts of Obamacare intact while gutting Medicaid rules that predated President Obama’s 2010 legislation.

Specifically, it would have capped the growth of Medicaid, shifting more of the burden for covering people with disabilities and very low-income families to the states. That’s a big reason so many GOP governors, including Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, opposed the bill. Few states would have been able to plug the hole, and the resulting reductions would have hurt small rural hospitals that rely on Medicaid payments.

Now the Republicans have three options: Try to revive the McConnell bill in some form, with a few sweeteners to mollify critics; start from scratch, perhaps working with Democrats; or move on to other parts of their legislative agenda.

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To stabilize the insurance exchanges in states, a bipartisan health care bill, of the sort advocated by Governors John R. Kasich of Ohio and John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado, would be the best outcome. But in the spirit of the medical profession’s “do-no-harm” oath, doing nothing would be second-best, since, by and large, Obamacare is working as it is and has resulted in big coverage gains nationwide. Reviving the McConnell bill, in anything like its most recent form, should be off the table. McConnell needs to hear the message that Collins delivered on Tuesday — “It’s difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill” — from other Republicans, too.

Democrats might be rooting for McConnell to keep trying, if only to deepen the schisms in the GOP and keep the party distracted from other parts of its agenda, where it’s more likely to find consensus. But the prolonged uncertainty about health care — fanned by the Trump administration’s irresponsible talk about intentionally sabotaging the exchanges — is taking a toll. Insurers have been pulling out of states, and state legislatures are suddenly grappling with the possibility of huge budget challenges. It’s an artificially created, unnecessary mess, and Republicans in Congress need to end it.

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