The Seattle Times
GOP’s know-nothing approach to health care is symptom of a bigger disease
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., listens during a news conference at the Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 25. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Republicans’ odd and repeated failures to come up with a health-care reform plan, despite controlling all branches of government, might be because the anti-government party doesn’t want to govern.
Danny Westneat , Seattle Times staff columnist September 22, 2017
A few years back, our state’s highest-ranking GOP official, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, went on a fact-finding mission. It sums up why Republicans still are struggling to do anything constructive about health care.
McMorris Rodgers, who is in the leadership of the U.S. House, asked the public to “please share your story with me so that I can better understand the challenges you’re facing” regarding health insurance and the Affordable Care Act.
More than 10,000 people responded (10,659 to be exact). As I wrote at the time, most of the stories were positive. (“I was recently diagnosed with Fibromuscular Dysplasia and thanks to Obamacare, I know I won’t be dropped by my insurance carrier.”) But also, that same week, the state released data showing McMorris Rodgers’ own district had some of the higher Obamacare sign-up rates in the nation.
She ignored all of it — the stories she had solicited and the inconvenient data she hadn’t — when she called for the total repeal of the health law the next day.
I’m recalling all of this now because fast forward 2 ½ years, and the Republicans’ obsession with this issue has become almost pathological. They’re still at it — still pushing repeal, still with no viable plan of their own, and still not listening to the opinions of the public or myriad experts and medical-interest groups.
The first problem with what McMorris Rodgers did is that it was phony. She was trolling the internet for talking points to support her already adopted position.
But the larger problem — the one that continues to hang the party today — is that she wasn’t remotely interested in the real story.
That real story is mixed. It’s complicated. It’s true, Obamacare hasn’t worked well for many people who don’t qualify for a subsidy. But at the same time it has directly helped hundreds of thousands of people in this state, and brought the uninsured rate here to historic lows. You can’t put all that on a bumper sticker.
Yet the GOP, heedless of these complexities, keeps rolling out one half-baked repeal attempt after another. How half-baked? Well Friday, when GOP Sen. John McCain announced he couldn’t support the latest “Graham-Cassidy” repeal bill, he noted in passing that senators of his own party still don’t know “how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, or how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”
So he’s saying they basically know nothing. They’ve been at it seven years. They know so little they are being schooled nightly about the contents of their own bill by a late-night TV comedian, Jimmy Kimmel.
Now, health-care reform is dense, and the trade-offs can be crippling (as the Democrats discovered). But understanding the basics isn’t that hard. There’s something else going on here, something elemental and disturbing.
The GOP just doesn’t seem interested in the substance of this issue, beyond checking off a campaign promise (a wildly implausible promise, at that, of spending billions less on health care yet somehow making it better for everyone). How else to explain why they keep coming up with simplistic proposals that everyone in the industry opposes and that cut coverage for millions of people?
The latest bill’s central premise is proof of this disinterest. It punts the federal role in health care to the states, giving them block grants. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s another way of saying: “We have no clue. You figure it out.”
Or as the state Medicaid directors put it in an unusual opposition letter this week: The GOP plan “constitutes the largest intergovernmental transfer of financial risk from the federal government to the states in our country’s history.”
Yikes. Maybe health care is special kryptonite for Republicans. Maybe they’ll craft better policy if they ever move on to something else. But maybe this is a group that is so anti-government in its DNA, it has no idea how to govern.
Or worse, like McMorris Rodgers with her fake survey, they don’t want to know.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org