Shooting could derail GOP plans to repeal health care law

The moment for the House Republicans to make good on their threat to repeal President Obama’s health care program may have passed with the insane attack on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others.

Today was the day Congressional Republicans planned to vote as a bloc “to repeal the job-killing health care law and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.”

Instead, GOP leaders have postponed a vote on the issue. Without renouncing their campaign promise to repeal the law, they have decided to “wait and make sure that we’re responding appropriately to the current situation.”

“In light of yesterday’s tragedy, our focus has changed,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., told Fox News. “And we need to make sure that we are responding appropriately to that tragedy before we get involved in the legislative business of Congress.”

While the Republicans are contemplating their next steps, provisions of the health care bill that went into effect at the beginning of the year are making an impression. As that reality sinks in, especially for senior citizens who get the most benefits immediately, popular support for repeal is likely to wane.

Emory University health policy expert Professor Kenneth Thorpe predicts that the law will gain more support as its benefits go into effect. “Ninety-nine percent of the focus has been on this requirement to buy insurance and the federal spending linked to the subsidies, but this law is so much broader than that,” he says.

For example, will Medicare beneficiaries want to give up annual physicals and screening for cancer and other chronic conditions, procedures that don’t require co-pays?

When this benefit went into effect for private insurance holders last September, there was no loud outcry of objection from beneficiaries. As Medicare now extends the benefit to all seniors, do Republicans expect them to quietly let the benefit be taken away?

The bill also begins to close the “donut hole” for seniors on the Medicare Part D plan. Currently, beneficiaries with Part D, whose drug costs surpass $2,480 in a year, must pay full price for all drugs until annual costs reach $4,450, after which Medicare kicks in again. Under Obama’s health care law, consumers get a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs that fall into the gap. Over time the gap will be closed.

Insured Americans of all ages will benefit from requiring insurance companies to spend a minimum of 80 percent of premiums on patient care. Companies not meeting that standard will be forced to rebate the difference to policyholders. While this may impact the bonuses of health industry CEOs negatively, it is a positive gain for consumers.

These new benefits follow those initiated last September, allowing parents to keep children on their health insurance until age 26. Insurance companies may not cancel those who have pre-existing conditions or become sick. Lifetime limits on coverage were removed, also.

It was one thing to attack Obamacare with broad generalizations and ideological principles, but it is quite another to take back benefits that have been granted. Even if the Republicans keep their voting bloc together to rescind these benefits, they could pay a high price in the next election.

House Republicans will also have to justify their decision to exempt the cost of repealing the Affordable Health Care Act from their rule that all new legislation pay for itself. Since the Congressional Budget Office estimates repealing heath care will add $231 billion to the deficit over 10 years, repealing the law would raise serious questions about their fiscal responsibility.

By contrast, the CBO estimates that implementation of the new health care legislation will reduce the budget deficit by $143 billion over 10 years.

Since Senate Democrats have made it clear that they will not allow any repeal of health care to pass, House Republicans know that their health care vote is only symbolic. They can go on record against the Affordable Health Care Act, but they cannot prevent it.

Going forward, Republicans can decide to become partners in making health care reform work, or they can continue their pattern of obstruction and delay with a symbolic vote. If they choose the latter, they may experience a new dimension of the high cost of health care.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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