McGovern fights health care foes; Republicans continue push to scrap Obamacare


For the Gazette
Published: 1/14/2017 12:02:33 AM

Congressman James McGovern led a Democratic Capitol Hill debate Friday as ascendant Republicans drove a budget through Congress that gives them an early but critical victory in their crusade to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

The vote trains the spotlight on whether they and Donald Trump can deliver on repeated pledges to not just erase that statute but replace it.

Demonstrating the GOP’s willingness to plunge into a defining but risky battle, the House used a near party-line 227-198 roll call to approve a budget that prevents Senate Democrats from derailing a future bill, thus far unwritten, annulling and reshaping Obama’s landmark 2010 law. The budget, which won Senate approval early Thursday, does not need the president’s signature.

“For nearly seven years, my Republican friends have railed against the Affordable Care Act,” said McGovern, who represents portions of Hampshire and Franklin counties. “Their well-funded allies have spent billions of dollars distorting the ACA and lying to the American people about what it actually does. And for nearly seven years, there has not been a single comprehensive health care bill brought to the floor by Republicans as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Not one.”

McGovern emphasized that ACA — which Republicans in Congress have voted more than 60 times to repeal — is “not perfect,” and offered to work with Republicans to strengthen the law and improve it.

“But my colleagues don’t want to do that,” he said. “They are determined to just vote for an outright repeal and that is going to hurt countless people in this country. The Donald Trumps of the world certainly don’t have to worry about health care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. If someone in their family gets really sick — they’ll just sell some stocks or close down another American factory, or not pay their workers — as our president-elect has been known to do on many, many occasions.”

Trump tweeted Friday, “The ‘Unaffordable’ Care Act will soon be history!” in a dig at the formal name of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Trump takes the presidential oath next Friday.

Yet the real work looms in coming months as the new administration and congressional Republicans write binding legislation to erase much of the health care law and replace it with a GOP version.

Republicans still have internal divisions over what that would look like, though past GOP proposals have cut much of the existing law’s federal spending and eased coverage requirements while relying more on tax benefits and letting states make decisions.

Congressman Richard Neal, D-Springfield, meanwhile, also lashed out at Republicans. Like McGovern, he noted that Republicans have yet to agree on a plan to replace the law.

“Today’s vote shows just how out of touch Republicans really are with middle-class families ... Despite Republican rhetoric, the facts are clear: this repeal plan would take away health insurance from nearly 30 million men, women, and children in this country,” Neal said in a statement.

He added that the “job-killing proposal” would hurt local hospitals and have a devastating economic impact on communities across the country. He said the repeal would put insurance companies back in control of Americans’ health care by cutting consumer protections and would enable insurers to deny people coverage simply because they have pre-existing conditions like asthma or diabetes.

Medicaid tool against drug addiction

In Masssachusetts, said McGovern, Medicaid “is one of the best tools we have in the fight against opioid addiction, providing real care for the addiction and the underlying conditions that drive the opioid epidemic in our communities.”

Repealing Medicaid expansion under the ACA, McGovern said, “would rip coverage away from an estimated 1.6 million newly insured individuals with substance use disorders.”

It would also cost more 30 million Americans their health coverage, including nearly 4 million children, would hurt more than 52 million individuals with pre-existing conditions, would throw millions of young adults off their parents’ plans, and remove coverage from 14 million individuals enrolled in Medicaid under the expansion, with another loss of free preventive services for nearly 140 million individuals with private insurance.

“It is a cruel thing to do to take away people’s health care,” he said, speaking directly to the Republican majority. “We believe that health care ought to be a right. I know you don’t.

“We believe health care protections ought to be in the law. You believe they ought to be up to the insurance companies. But this is a lousy thing to do. We’re gonna fight you on this. This is a fight worth having. Protecting people’s health care is something we should all be dedicated to and we’re going to fight you on this.”

McGovern noted that Republicans are in disagreement about a timeline for repealing and replacing the health care law, and haven’t agreed on a plan for what a replacement would include or how it would work.

McGovern said the Republican president-elect when asked “what we should replace Obamacare with, he said, and I quote, ‘Something terrific.’ When pressed for details and more specificity, he said, ‘Something that people will really, really, really like.’

Such an answer “would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic,” he said. “It’s tragic because what Republicans are trying to do is take health care protections away from millions and millions of families.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the health care law was “so arrogant and so contrary to our founding principles” and had not delivered on Obama’s promises to lower costs and provide more choice.

“We have to step in before things get worse. This is nothing short of a rescue mission,” Ryan said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Ryan was peddling “mythology” and said the GOP was moving toward making things worse for health care consumers. “They want to cut benefits and run. They want to cut access and run.”

Approval of the budget means Senate Democrats won’t be allowed to filibuster the future repeal-and-replace bill — a pivotal advantage for Republicans. They control the Senate 52-48, but it takes 60 votes to end filibusters, which are endless procedural delays that can scuttle legislation.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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