The half of all Americans who get health coverage through work have been sitting back, watching the battle over Obamacare with the indifference of Alfred E. Neuman. What, me worry?
Wake up, already. Workers with company insurance can start worrying now.
As the rest of us were caught up in the Trump-Comey-Russia dust up last week, Tea Party extremist Sen. Ted Cruz was diligently plotting even more sinister proposed changes to the American Care Act. A “repeal and replace” bill narrowly passed the House of Representatives in a 217-213 squeaker. It was sent to the Senate for a creative writing job that would satisfy conservatives, while still saving $880 billion from Medicare for tax cuts for the wealthy.
For his part, Cruz would cut off all federal funding for Medicaid expansion enrollees. Better yet, Cruz wants to change refundable tax credits to non-refundable tax credits, a bid to the anti-abortion crowd. He also wants limits on malpractice awards, to allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums for preexisting conditions and ban any “able-bodied” person from receiving Medicaid. Who needs a health care bill with no benefits? We know, it’s Ted!
For workers who get their insurance from employers, Cruz also reportedly likes the impact of a House provision that makes it easier for employers — think, campaign contributors — to increase the amount that employees pay in premiums. Or employers could refuse any employee coverage at all without fear of fines. On top of that, employers could choose insurance vendors with limits on how much they pay for catastrophic illnesses. And charge more for workers with preexisting medical conditions, like acne or cancer.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 7 million hourly workers who now have employer-sponsored health insurance could lose coverage, many of those working at small companies. Sure, those workers could buy insurance on the open market, if they can afford the high prices.
The Obama Administration estimated that up to half of all Americans — regardless of where they get insurance — have preexisting medical conditions. Ironically, the top 10 states thought to have the most preexisting conditions all voted for Trump, according to a Kaiser Foundation study. Four of the Trump states recently implemented Medicaid expansion. You folks are so screwed, and thanks to your Trump votes, so are the rest of us.
It’s already clear the Senate won’t produce a plan any fairer than the House plan. When Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the 12-man working group to write a new bill, he meant it, literally. No women were included, despite the fact that women’s health was the target of vicious cuts in the House bill. McConnell in his arrogance also left out African Americans, including Sen. Tim Scott, a conservative caucus ally. This is a missed opportunity for McConnell — Scott works for an insurance company, and nothing greases Congress like checks written by big insurance companies. The insurance industry pumped $6 million into races in 2016 alone.
Responding to immediate criticism, the White House said “women will be added” to the committee, although there was no reassurance of same from McConnell. Perhaps Ivanka Trump will become involved as an adviser and stand-in for a real woman.
Senate members have estimated it will take the committee two months to produce another plan. But odds are it could very well stretch on until Nov. 5, 2018, the day before midterm elections are held. That’s when all 435 House seats and more importantly, 34 Senate seats are contested. Several of these Senate seats are in vulnerable states where Democratic candidates already pose a real challenge. House members who voted for their bill are already feeling the burn from voters and no Senate member wants to be questioned on his vote on the health care plan, particularly if it is as morally bankrupt as the House bill.
“This really isn’t about somehow slowing the growth in health care costs,” said Edwin Park with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “This is about shifting costs. So it’s cutting federal spending on health coverage, but in turn shifting the cost…on to individuals and families in terms of their out-of-pocket costs.”
For his part, Cruz’s inclusion on the Senate health care committee is no doubt political payback for agreeing to campaign for Trump, even though Trump insinuated that Cruz’s wife Heidi is a dog. You’ll recall Cruz has been salivating for the repeal of Obamacare, unsuccessfully, for seven years, even holding a 21-hour filibuster in 2013 to stop Obamacare funding. At least he stuck to the medical topic by reading a nutrition guide by Dr. Seuss. You can watch it by clicking here.
In the Senate passes another flawed bill, do the math: That’s 24 million Americans who will no longer be able to afford Obamacare, 11 million cut from Medicaid rolls and 7 million cut from private company insurance plans. We would be back to pre-Obamacare days, when 46 million people struggled without health insurance.
If Trump’s Rose Garden party and beer bash after the House vote is any indication, anything the Senate produces is fine with Big Orange, as long as he gets a “win” on the board and a tax cut for his fellow billionaires. He called the House version “a great plan” and “incredibly well-crafted,” which just proves he hadn’t read it, either.
And yet, Trump continues to sell, and deceive, Americans workers and the poor on the future of their health care. “Yes, premiums will be coming down. Yes, deductibles will be coming down. But very importantly, it’s a great plan,” Trump crowed. “And coming from a different world and only being a politician for a short period of time — how am I doing? Am I doing okay? I’m president. Hey, I’m president. Can you believe it? Right?”
The Trump-Comey-Russia explosion can’t come too soon.