As the Obama administration continues to enact provisions of the healthcare reform law, efforts to prevent its adoption are growing stronger.
A 'Second Opinion'
GOP Senators launch campaign against reform
Republican lawmakers intend to frame the new reform law as a budget-busting package of misguided programs and costly mandates that will increase the cost of insurance coverage and do little to drive down the cost of care as a battle with the White House over messaging begins to heat up.
In many ways it is a reprise of the arguments that played out on Capitol Hill over the year-and-a-half health reform debate. But Republicans say they are emboldened by a series of reports from government agencies and Wall Street analysts that project the law costing billions more than first predicted while restricting a person’s ability to see a doctor when needed.
Senate Republicans last week unveiled a multipronged campaign to publicly counter the White House’s established messaging machine just ahead of the summertime congressional recesses and the November elections.
Loosely referred to as the “Second Opinion” project, senior senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Barrasso of Wyoming, plan to use floor speeches, press conferences and other public events to strike back against the overhaul package now being implemented, according to a senior leadership aide.
Republicans in the House are in lockstep with their colleagues in the Senate. On May 13, House Minority Leader John Boehner—in a letter sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius—railed against the rollout of the new law, saying that the Obama administration has ignored dire warnings that the reform effort will cost far more than first thought.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this law never, ever goes into effect,” Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’re going to rip out every possible mandate and tax increase that they’ve got contained in this bill.”
Boehner said the bill remains unpopular among a majority of Americans. “They want it gone,” he said. “They want it replaced with commonsense reforms that will lower the cost of health insurance and protect American jobs.”
The strong statements come on the heels of a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated that the law could cost $115 billion more than previously predicted because of a number of new grant programs, agency costs and scores of new initiatives where funding is expected though not specified.
Further, GOP lawmakers said they were similarly angered over a letter sent from Sebelius that touted the early implementation of a number of reform initiatives, including expanded coverage programs and tax breaks for small businesses. “Now I’ve seen my fair share of propaganda, but this letter must have been written in an alternative universe,” Boehner said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, championed the nascent reform effort. “We’re very pleased with the unfolding of the healthcare bill,” she said. “In a bigger sense, it is about a healthier America.”
Unsurprisingly, the battle over the reform law has ensnared President Barack Obama’s choice to run the Medicare and Medicaid programs. As Donald Berwick, who Obama nominated on April 19 to run the CMS, quietly made the rounds on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans vocally pounded the founder and president of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement over statements he made lauding the Britain’s government-backed health system.
McConnell, Barrasso and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have painted Berwick as a proponent of rationing care as a means to drive down healthcare costs.
The trio of senators used comments Berwick made over the past decade that praised Britain’s National Health Service. That system, the senators say, has a prolonged history of holding back or delaying care to certain severely sick patients. All three senators have, since the beginning of the reform debates, warned that measures in the bill would lead to rationed care.
Roberts, who met last week with Berwick, said he pressed him on the statements. “You would have thought he never heard of the British healthcare system,” he said. “But facts are stubborn things and statements are stubborn things.”
Roberts and other Republicans have warned that measures adopted in the new reform law, including those that would create a center for comparative effectiveness research and a Medicare payment advisory panel, could lead to decisions to greatly restrict medical care.
“It’s not that you can’t pay attention to viable research that will help you through this and achieve cost savings, but not at the expense of patient care,” Roberts said.
But Berwick has more than a few allies on Capitol Hill. In a written statement released after meeting with the nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) warned against party politics. “It’s no secret that the national Republican Party has tried to crank up the attack machine and make his nomination a distorted referendum on reform,” he said. “I hope everyone will instead take a deep breath and look at the facts about this public servant who is beyond debate a dedicated pediatrician and nationally recognized expert on healthcare quality.”
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