Republicans acknowledge health care reform repeal is dead

Well, it only took five months, but House Republicans finally realized that, on their own, they cannot undo a bill passed by Congress and signed into law last year by President Obama.

Of course, anyone with any sense and a marginal understanding of how the U.S. government works (which apparently does not include the House leadership) understood on the day after last year’s elections that Republicans didn’t make enough gains to actually carry out their promise to repeal the most significant health care reform law in a generation. They regained control of the House by a significant margin, but fell short in their bid to retake the Senate. That meant they controlled one-half of one-third of the federal government.

That didn’t stop House Republicans from making their first act when taking over the House passage of the most juvenile and incorrectly named bill I’ve ever seen: “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” Never mind that private sector job growth had been plugging right along, especially in the health care field, since the bill passed. The entire exercise was futile, of course, because a repeal was dead in the Senate and would face a certain veto by President Obama if it passed.

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, finally acknowledged what everyone else has known for months: “Is the repeal dead? I don’t think the Senate is going to do it, so I guess, yes.”

Yeah. Duh.

Camp said his inclination was to work instead on repealing the most controversial portion of the reform bill: the individual mandate. The constitutionality of the mandate is being challenged in the courts. The problem, of course, is that the mandate is a keystone of the law. The reform act prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Without some sort of mechanism to keep people from waiting until they need insurance to buy it, that provision could bankrupt insurance companies.

There are alternatives to the mandate (which was originally a Republican idea, let us not forget), but most of them have serious drawbacks if the goal is to actually ensure Americans have health care coverage when they need it. For instance, there could be open enrollment periods. If you don’t get insurance during one of those periods, you would either be ineligible to get it later or would have to pay a late-enrollment penalty. So, if you find yourself needing insurance, you’d either be out of luck or have to pay a significant fine, even as you’re facing a serious illness. Other proposals would require proof of health care insurance to receive certain government services or have lack of coverage be considered by credit rating agencies.

But let’s have a discussion about reasonable alternatives. In fact, let’s have a reasonable discussion about the best way to achieve the goals of health care reform: Universal coverage and a sustainable rate of increase in costs. It would have made more sense to have that discussion back when the bill was being debated, but Republicans were too intent on ensuring the final bill had absolutely no stamp of bipartisan approval. President Obama would have welcomed the debate back then, and there’s no reason not to have it now, especially if Republicans truly comprehend that repeal isn’t an option.

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