Friday, March 24, 2017

EDITORIAL >> No repeal, replace yet

“We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

An inexperienced president and a House speaker who could not count ensured defeat of a signature healthcare bill that Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail would cover everyone for a lot less money and with better features than Obamacare.

Republican members of Congress who bothered to read the much-touted American Health Care Act realized it would cost more and cover fewer people and offer fewer benefits. Most GOP representatives jumped ship, leaving only those who were still in lockstep with a panicked leadership to support the confused measure.

Ryan postponed a vote Thursday until Friday in hopes of getting the unpopular bill passed — calls from constituents were 35-1 against — but more Republicans mutinied and support for the measure quickly collapsed.

The stunning defeat for the much-touted American Health Care Act to replace the Affordable Care Act was a foregone conclusion even before the House was supposed to start voting Friday afternoon as most conservative and many moderate members refused to support the legislation that would continue to add to the deficit while cutting back benefits at a much higher cost.

By mid-afternoon Friday, Trump told Speaker Ryan to pull the bill, which would have lost by a lopsided margin as more Republicans recoiled from the weird contraption that would have dropped 24 million people from insurance coverage while costing the federal government billions of dollars more in the next decade.

In any case, the administration was already two months behind schedule — Republicans had promised to repeal Obamacare “on day one” — and here we were in late March with no replacement in sight. And now repeal and replacement is just a campaign slogan and nothing more.

President Trump tried to twist arms during a visit to Congress this week, but most members were no longer intimidated, and that may have been the moment the tide turned against the bill. At week’s end, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said he would vote no as did other key legislators, putting an end to efforts to repeal Obamacare until at least the next election and perhaps forever. No “Art of the Deal” this time.

The many sweeteners added to the bill to make Obamacare Lite easier for conservatives to swallow didn’t sway the holdouts and in fact offended many deficit hawks. But those reported changes, which would have eliminated important features available under Obamacare, would have made it more difficult to pass in the Senate.

Rep. Rick Crawford, the Republican congressman from the largely rural First District, said he could not support a bill that added to the national debt. “When we’re $20 trillion in debt, and we’re facing interest rate increases, I don’t want to engage in another (entitlement) program that exacerbates that problem,” he told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “Big government under Republicans vs. big government under Democrats is still big government.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also opposed the health care bill on the same philosophical grounds, although the rest of the state’s congressional delegation, all Republicans, stood behind the President and Speaker Ryan, whatever the cost, especially to Arkansas, which could have lost tens of millions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid funds if the bill had passed.

The American Health Care Act had too many serious flaws: It would have raised premiums for working seniors who are a decade away from retirement and would have dropped tens of thousands of working poor Arkansans who have signed up for Medicaid expansion. Children from less affluent homes who have benefited from ARKids (which Gov. Mike Huckabee launched 20 years ago) could also have lost coverage.

Hospitals throughout Arkansas, especially UAMS and the many regional medical centers in small towns and rural areas, would also have been harmed. They would have been expected to treat more patients in emergency rooms, forcing hospitals to write off millions of dollars worth of charity care. Hospitals in our area have probably written off $100 million or more in uncollected debt.

Putting additional burdens on doctors and hospitals is not the answer to our health care crisis. It’s time for bipartisan legislation that ensures all Americans can get proper health care.

Political grandstanding must stop, along with sloganeering and empty promises. An epidemic of opiate addiction is spreading across the country — many of the addicts are Trump voters — and life expectancy among white working-class people is dropping alarmingly. Fixing our health- care crisis does not need political labels. Call it Obamacare or Trumpcare or Ryancare if you want, but the American people deserve health care that’s above partisan politics. They’re tired of the political drama that played out in Washington this week.