Who is Gardner listening to on health care?
By Michael J. Pramenko
Repeal and replace. For seven years we have listened to this campaign pledge. For seven years, we have heard promises of something better, something less expensive, something “great.”
Now, with the dust still settling from this summer’s health-care debate, both Republicans and Democrats are disappointed with our own Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton. Nobody is happy.
Following the mockery of the legislative process that was the Republican Senate and House construction of so-called health-care legislation, Sen. Gardner told town hall critics that he was only holding true to his campaign promise of repeal and replace. His words ring as hollow as that overly repeated phrase.
This campaign promise, always backed with more rhetoric than substance, allowed Republicans a substantial advantage at the polls over the past three campaign cycles. Repeal and replace was a large reason Gardner won his Colorado Senate seat.
For years, this column repeatedly detailed the hollow underpinnings of Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Most Republican politicians, including Gardner and Tipton, never shared specifics about what replacement of the ACA would look like. That didn’t matter — the campaign slogan was easy for people to understand and easy for candidates to repeat ad nauseam.
Undoubtedly, it’s the specifics of health-care reform legislation that sinks politicians. Therefore, even after you control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, the politically smart way forward is to not hold any committee hearings on how to replace the ACA. The art of deception works quite well in politics.
It’s only with the recent voting record that we learned what “repeal and replace” really means to Sen. Gardner and Rep. Tipton. It means a rollback of Medicaid expansion. It means an end to the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies for lower- and middle-income families. It means a possible end to protection of coverage with pre-existing conditions.
Had they campaigned on the promises of, “I pledge to roll back Medicaid coverage; I pledge to undo health insurance subsidies; and I pledge to end the law protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions,” both of them would likely have a job here in Colorado rather than in Washington D.C.
Make no mistake, tens of thousands of Coloradoans likely would have lost their health insurance had three Republican senators not stood up to legislation that even Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham described as a “disaster” and a “fraud.” The vote, as you recall, was 49-51. Given the jaw-dropping opinion polls detailing the public’s disapproval of the House and Senate’s reform proposals, it was amazing the vote was that close.
Colorado voters deserved specifics prior to the last few elections. There are only 100 senators representing 323 million people. Sen. Gardner, it’s your job to make this happen. It’s your job to see that legislation this important is created via a transparent process. It was the breathtaking lack of specifics on how to protect millions of American’s health access that doomed the Senate Republican efforts. And where was Sen. Gardner? He was firmly in the camp of repeal at any cost and clean up the mess down the road.
That is not leadership. Not when lives are at stake.
Republicans should take a look at how Gardner and Tipton are handling the opportunity to fulfill seven years of endless repeal and replace promises. It’s not like they and their colleagues didn’t have any time to prepare for this moment. It’s not like there are not a multitude of Republican-leaning health-care reform experts to listen to while crafting legislation. The ideas are there. The path is possible. It just requires a bit of compromise.
At a recent meeting with the Mesa County Health Leadership Consortium, one of Gardner’s legislative aids stated that “elections have consequences.” Yes, so do deception and lack of leadership. At the same meeting, not one of the members of the Mesa County Health Leadership Consortium voiced support for Sen. Gardner’s position to roll back the Medicaid expansion. Who is he listening to?
Even now, a bipartisan health reform bill may yet still see the light of day. Maybe the House and Senate will remember that the vast majority of legislation works its way through committee work with hearings, expert opinion, and negotiation. The ACA process of eight years ago looks like textbook legislative protocol compared to the antics of the last five months in the House and Senate.
This past spring, while the House health-care bill was written behind closed doors, the Republicans held a committee hearing on United Airlines removing a passenger from his seat. Sadly, that is one more committee hearing than we have had on Republican reform legislation affecting the health care of the entire nation and making up one-sixth of the United States economy. Seriously!? It would be funny if it were not so irresponsible.
Meanwhile, polls show that Americans have spoken. Americans want individuals with pre-existing conditions protected. Most Americans want everyone to have access to some health care. All Americans want a more affordable path forward.
Sen. Gardner should set aside his political ideology and start governing like a senator from a purple state. If he put half as much energy into crafting a compromise versus attempting to remove health care coverage from millions of people, progress may be possible.
Michael J. Pramenko M.D. is the executive director of Primary Care Partners. He is chairman of the board of Monument Health and is a past president of the Colorado Medical Society.