Editorial: House GOP reckless on health care

  • President Donald Trump, accompanied by GOP House members, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, on Thursday after the House pushed through a health care bill.  AP FILE PHOTO

Monday, May 08, 2017

Former president Barack Obama spoke about courage Sunday night in Boston when he accepted the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

“I hope that current members of Congress recognize that it takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential. But it takes courage to champion the vulnerable, the sick and the infirm” and people “with no access to the corridors of power,” Obama said at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.

Though Obama did not refer directly to the House vote Thursday to dismantle key provisions of the Affordable Care Act that he championed, he clearly was directing his remarks at Republicans in the Senate who now control the fate of millions of Americans’ access to insurance allowing them to continue essential medical care — which makes the difference, in some cases, between life and death.

We look to the Senate to act with the courage lacking in the 217 GOP members of the House who gave a four-vote approval to the American Health Care Act backed by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Every Democrat and 20 Republicans voted against the measure, which also was opposed by the American Medical Association and most other groups that lobby Congress on health-care issues on behalf of hospitals, doctors and patients.

The vote came six weeks after an earlier attempt to begin repealing and replacing Obamacare failed when House Republicans could not agree on the particulars. Among the compromises that led to passage of this latest version are permitting states to seek waivers from some provisions of Obamacare, including requiring that insurers not charge more to cover patients with preexisting medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

After Thursday’s vote, Republican House members posed for photos in the Rose Garden at the White House with Trump, who said, “Make no mistake, this is a repeal and replace of Obamacare. It’s essentially dead. It’s going to be an unbelievable victory when we get it through the Senate.”

House members who voted for the legislation did so recklessly, without allowing time for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to deliver its assessment of the bill’s impact on Americans’ insurance and the federal budget. Under the earlier version, an estimated 24 million Americans would lose health care coverage by 2026.

Besides weakening protection for patients with preexisting medical conditions, the House legislation would cut by $800 billion federal spending on Medicaid, the insurance program for poor people. Medicaid is used by 1.9 million Massachusetts residents. It would also end the requirement that insurers cover mental illness and addiction.

The House bill also would eliminate the mandate that all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a penalty in taxes. States would be allowed to continue their own mandates, but federal subsidies would be cut. Massachusetts in 2007 became the first state in the country to make health insurance mandatory.

According to the administration of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, the House bill would cost the state as much as $2 billion a year in federal funds and result in loss of coverage by as many as 500,000 people. “Massachusetts leads the nation in health care coverage and I am disappointed by (Thursday’s) vote as this bill would significantly reduce critical funds for the commonwealth’s health care system,” Baker said in a statement.

It is not surprising that Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey declared, “The bill, as it passed in the House, is dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Fortunately, moderate Republicans senators also understand that they cannot be complicit in the abominable action by their counterparts in the House. Republican Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday, “The Senate is starting from scratch. We’re going to draft our bill, and I’m convinced we will take the time to do it right.”

We hope that a majority of her colleagues have the courage to heed the words of Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who said in a statement Thursday: “Today, cynical members of the House of Representatives voted against the will of the majority of the people to destroy the health and well-being of millions of Americans. It is a sad day for America. ... We urge the Senate to not be as reckless, short-sighted and heartless. American lives are at stake.”