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GOP Health Care Plan: More Repeal Than Replace

4 years ago
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Late on a damp and chilly night, a few weeks before the midterm elections, I was strolling down Lexington Avenue, returning to my hotel, when I heard a voice from the street call out, "Hey, it's David Corn of Mother Jones." I turned and encountered a middle-aged fellow who was part of a work crew laying fiber-optic cable beneath New York City's streets. I said hello, he told me he was a regular watcher of MSNBC, and introduced me to the two other members of his gang. We immediately started talking politics. These three guys, who each belonged to a Queens local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, were dismayed by the prospect of the electorate handing the keys to the House to the Republicans.

"What are people thinking?" one of the men said. He told me that thanks to the health care reform bill President Obama and the Democrats had passed, he could now keep an adult son on his health insurance plan, rather than pay for separate coverage. "This is saving me thousands of dollars," this IBEW worker said. "Much more than any tax cut. And they want to take that away?"

It was as if I had walked on to the set of a Democratic Party campaign commercial. But these voters were as real as it gets. (They offered to take me into the manhole and show me the wild underworld of below-street wiring in NYC. Given that I was wearing a suit, I politely demurred.) And, yes, the Republicans do want to take that away. At least, that's the House GOPers' official position this week. On Tuesday, Boehner's Band begins debating its first major piece of legislation: repealing the health care law, lock, stock, and pre-existing conditions.

The obvious analysis is that the newly empowered Republicans are throwing one big bag to their tea party backers. After all, the Democrats who control the Senate won't repeal a bill they passed, and Obama would veto any such measure. Repeal is a moot issue. But the GOPers know that they will soon have to take several dives: They will not propose a budget that meets their promise of cutting $100 billion from the federal budget this year, and they will probably end up supporting a boost in the national debt ceiling (for otherwise the United States will default and possibly trigger a global financial crisis). They're doing what they can now, so later they can tell disappointed and angry tea partiers, "Hey, remember that health care repeal vote?"

Still, there's more to life than the tea party. Isn't there? Even for Republicans? And as the GOPers rush ahead with this symbolic vote to smother the health care law, non-tea partiers -- especially the millions of Americans who have started to benefit from reforms in the package -- might wonder: What about the "replace" in the Republicans' health care battle cry, "Repeal and Replace"?

There is no replace. There's only eradicate. Yank apart. Lash out. The GOPers do not have a substitute. This ought not be shocking. When they controlled Congress during the George W. Bush years -- and before -- they never showed much interest in addressing the extensive woes of the health care system, countering the abusive practices of insurance companies, or extending coverage to the tens of millions who go without. The House Republicans do intend to pass a non-binding resolution that will announce to the world their broad health-care aims and instruct four different House committees to develop proposals. But this is the thinnest of cover. Why are there not GOP proposals ready to go? Health care reform is hardly a new matter.

But we already know what the Republicans will propose: tax credits and medical malpractice reform, with a large dose of free-market rhetoric. Tax credits would make it easier for some Americans to buy insurance -- but they will not cause insurance companies to become more consumer-friendly. Nor will they address a fundamental problem of the system: Insurance companies make more money when they provide fewer services and keep sick people (who need a lot of services) off their rolls.

As for the details of any GOP plan, that's anybody's guess. In the last Congress, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a deficit reduction scheme that included a plan to privatize Medicare and Medicaid. Under Ryan's blueprint, the federal government would give the elderly and poor tax credits and payments they could use to purchase coverage -- instead of guaranteeing particularly health care coverage no matter the cost. Talk about rationing. Under this system, the poor and older Americans could be thrown under the gurney after spending down the amount of money available for their care.

Ryan's proposal may not make it into any GOP package. (These guys aren't that foolish.) But there's no telling what will be in it -- if anything. There's no guarantee the House Republicans will serve up any comprehensive health care reforms. "Replacing Obamacare is not something we can accomplish overnight," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Washington Post. Yet ripping it to shreds can be done overnight. Even if that would mean that millions of Americans would have their adult children kicked off their plans and would have to contend with insurance companies tossing them aside due to pre-existing conditions.

Once again, the Republicans are calculating they can beat something with nothing. That worked fine when they were decrying non-existent death panels. And it worked in the 2010 elections. This time around, though, their spiteful and rash assault on the health care law might come with a cost. No longer are they merely trying to obstruct; they are now trying to destroy and, more important, trying to take away reforms that mean much to that cable guy and many others.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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The Founding Fathers declared that we are "endowed with unalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (1) There is no question that in order to have life we must have health. Yet there has been only limited constitutional language specific to this right. The "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to require prisoners, as part of their humane treatment during detention, to be guaranteed the right to health care. (2) Currently prisoners are the only group who are specifically granted the right to health care. It is probable that the founders of our country, if they could have predicted the importance of health care, would have granted that the same standard of humane treatment be extended to every citizen.

February 01 2011 at 10:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Here the reason real health care is not being passed in this country, because people don't care about each other. Can you even imagine someone not wanting health care for someone who don't have it, no matter what the small cost in taxes it might impose. Nearly 1000 people die every week in this great land of ours because they don't have insurance. That is 52,000 people this year alone and over 500,000 people in the last century. how can anyone who cares for his fellow man be against health care for all people. It should be so morally and ethically simple, but we don't have this because people really don't care if it don't affect them. Shame on us, not just on our government. We should be rioting on the streets for this reform, we don't because we simply do not care....... God help us all. By the way I am a 50 year old man, just lost my job and my cobra is 800 a month. So who cares if I cant afford it , lose my house, lose my insurance, lose my life. Please tell me who?

February 01 2011 at 10:03 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Everybody knows that health care provided by the government is not free. However it will bring the cost down when everybody has to pay their share. No more free ride.
What happens when people go to the emergency room and do not pay their bills because they cannot afford to? It gets passed on to those who can pay, the insured. I do not like to pay for other peoples health care. I think they should have to chip in so my employer can compete with foreign manufactures that do not pay $12-$15,000 per year for my health insurance.

January 23 2011 at 12:01 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

what else would you like your goverment to provide for you "free" of charge ? maybe a car, maybe a home, maybe a retirement fund, did no one teach you that "nothing" is free?..... someone has to pay for it.................. and yes,i pay 100% of my healthcare.

January 19 2011 at 9:25 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

I hope your right. The federal government has no business engaging in any type of health care. It is unfortunate that most of the comments below reveal a significant ignorance of what the founders intended with our republic, the general welfare clause, and the enumerated powers of the federal government. Health care is a state issue pure and simple, and if Republicans in the congress don't understand this, then they will be thrown out in 2012 and true constitutionalists will be elected in their stead.

January 19 2011 at 3:40 PM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to marc4326m's comment

Do you want to repeal Medicare, which is run by the federal government?

January 19 2011 at 7:16 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply

Perhaps we should do away with the federal government altogether. Why not hire a private detective when you are the victim of a crime?

January 23 2011 at 12:05 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The GOP will undertake a useless action in order to remind voters in future elections of how useful they have been in meeting voters' expectations? Is that the true essence of right wing America? I think so.

January 19 2011 at 9:24 AM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kalpal's comment

Republicans scream that government does not work, when elected they try to prove it. Like Rand Paul saying he would not have the ability to regulate the coal industry. That should be left up to the industry. They have really done a great job haven't they?

January 23 2011 at 12:04 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

We want to Repeal and Replace because were "hostage takers" and "enemies". Just using the words of you leader President Obama. So, i guess he can call names but we cant...your so one sided and blinded by other opinions.

January 18 2011 at 8:03 PM Report abuse -12 rate up rate down Reply

Mr Corn the next encounter you have with the IBEW I would like you deliver this question: Why don't the IBEW start their own health insurance company with the money they give to the democrat party and show us capitalists how to provide all the free health insurance to the members and leave the rest of us alone?

January 18 2011 at 7:51 PM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AL's comment

At what point does the current healthcare bill provide free healthcare and to whom is this free healthcare provided?

January 19 2011 at 9:25 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

When the IBEW worker-in-the-manhole notes that he can now keep his adult son on his insurance and says: "This is saving me thousands of dollars," who exactly does he think is paying for this new benefit?

If he wants to buy his adult son some insurance, then he should go right ahead--and pay for it with the fruits of his labors, not yours, mine, or anyone else's.

January 18 2011 at 5:15 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to rob000000's comment

Alan you could not of said it better or quoted a better person.

January 18 2011 at 4:17 PM Report abuse +22 rate up rate down Reply

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