John McCain embodies the American ideal of service and dedication. His brain cancer diagnosis is a sad and upsetting development and we join many others in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.
If we can sympathize with the health woes of a rich, well-connected man, we should be doubly sympathetic to a single mom without insurance who faces a similar diagnosis, or to an elderly nursing home resident who long ago drained his bank account paying for care.
This lack of sympathy for the health care plight of average Americans doomed Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which they derisively dubbed Obamacare.
The standard was simple: To repeal the landmark insurance reform law, it needed to be replaced with something better, not a plan that would cost many Americans much more for health insurance and leave millions more without coverage. Rather than try to meet this standard, Republican leaders in Congress, and President Donald Trump, focused simply on repealing the ACA because it was passed by a previous administration. They then added in a gutting of Medicaid and tax breaks for rich people.
Reasonable Republican senators, like Susan Collins, who actually talked with residents in their home states and heard their concerns about an ACA repeal, couldn’t go along. They couldn’t leave their constituents with insurance plans they couldn’t afford or put nursing homes and rural hospitals at risk of going out of business.
So, on Monday, a Senate bill to repeal the ACA and replace it with a more expensive and skimpier plan was left to die by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He then turned his attention to simply repealing the ACA with no replacement.
That plan lasted less than a day. It collapsed when three Republican senators, all women — Collins, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — said they would oppose such a move. Sen. Angus King has long opposed repealing the ACA, as has Rep. Chellie Pingree. Rep. Bruce Poliquin voted for a House repeal bill, which the Congressional Budget Office said would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured than if the act stayed in place. Poliquin has avoided questions about his vote.
“I do not think that it’s constructive to repeal a law that is so interwoven with our health care system without having a replacement plan in place,” Collins said on Twitter Tuesday morning. “We can’t just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years. Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the ACA and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets.”
“I have recommended … that the Senate Health Committee begin to hold hearings to examine ways to fix the many flaws in the ACA so that it will work better for all Americans,” Collins wrote.
This, of course, is how the process should have worked from the beginning.
One multi-partisan effort is already underway. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has reached out to former governors, like himself, who now serve in the Senate to talk about health care reform. King, a former Maine governor and an independent, has joined the group.
GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Health Committee, said that panel will hold hearings on stabilizing the health insurance market.
These new efforts must focus on lowering overall health care costs and bringing young, healthier people into the insurance market.
Trump’s plan to let Obamacare simply die and then blame Democrats is absurd, uninformed, irresponsible — and heartless. The American people are counting on Trump and Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, to put in place laws and policies that help them. So far, Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have been more focused on undoing Obama-era policies and giving tax breaks to the wealthy simply for the sake of undoing Obama-era policies and giving tax breaks to the wealthy.
The apparent demise of their shoddy health care legislation is a wake-up call. The American people are paying attention and are increasingly willing to speak out about thinly veiled attempts to leave them with worse health insurance.
It is past time to listen to the disturbingly few reasonable Republican voices in Washington and to get to work improving the ACA, not simply trying to kill it.