If last week felt to you like the movie “Groundhog Day,” you weren't alone.
Debate over repeal of healthcare law evokes discord of earlier times
We seemed to be reliving the same healthcare reform debate day after day as the House proceeded to its repeal vote. The rhetoric, slightly less heated in the new era of civility, was as annoyingly familiar as the Sonny & Cher song that painfully awakened Bill Murray each morning. Each side issued the usual array of dueling impact studies, some more bogus than others.
And once again, ancient passions were stirred as the people we charitably refer to as our political leaders went about their “work.” E-mail comments flooded our offices just as in the old days. Some partisans renewed the practice of writing messages punctuated by key words in all capital letters to be sure everyone understood their points. Like those of previous years, such comments looked at first glance like ransom notes.
We are told the new House leadership sparked all this deja vu to satisfy candidates who campaigned against the reform legislation and the angry citizenry who voted for them. It proved to be an interesting rewrite of the script as Republican lawmakers eagerly cast votes against a private-market insurance scheme conceived by conservative thinkers and embraced in 1990s bills endorsed by GOP lawmakers, some of whom are still in Congress. We shall see if the audience gives this movie thumbs up or down.
Republican opponents say they will now try to whittle away the reform legislation, scrapping individual provisions and defunding implementation.
Outside the political theater, other people were contemplating reality. The Senate, still under Democratic leadership, is more likely to take a vacation in Tunisia than to repeal the law. And President Barack Obama would sooner amputate his hand than affix his signature to a bill scrapping his signature domestic accomplishment.
There are other reality-based considerations. Some provisions of the law are popular. Most citizens think people shouldn't be denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Or have their coverage rescinded when they get sick. Families will like being able to extend coverage for older offspring. Polls show that the public, including some Republicans, is increasingly against a complete repeal of the law. Some want it altered, and others think it should be strengthened.
And then there are powerful interest groups with a stake in the law. Providers, insurers and drug companies made deals to get millions of new customers. Insurers won't be happy at all if the individual mandate is scrapped and they are compelled to write policies for sicker patients while the young and healthy stay out of the insurance pool.
Beyond the immediate considerations, a bigger reality picture is looming. That's the perilous state of the economy. Although many economic indicators are up, the country is mired in a jobless recovery. We are likely to be plagued by high unemployment for years as companies hoard cash in the wake of the Great Recession, shun hiring and ship jobs overseas. There are still no adequate safeguards against another financial/economic collapse. Imagine how the out-of-work will feel if the reform law is repealed and they can't get healthcare. No plan offered by opponents comes close to covering as many people.
If massive unemployment post-repeal produces a reform sequel, the ending is likely to be less palatable to some interest groups and political constituencies. A single-payer, Medicare-for-all option might seem efficient, easy and popular in a crisis.
As Murray learned in “Groundhog Day,” it's sometimes better to drop the hostility and make the most of what you've got.
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