Our Opinion: Latest GOP bill is more bad medicine

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When politics and health care are mixed, they tend to produce a toxic miasma that leaves everyone feeling ill. Such is the case with Senate Republicans' third attempt since taking over Congress and the presidency to make good on their seven-year campaign to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. The latest iteration of what opponents call a "zombie bill" — one that refuses to die — is innocuously titled "Graham-Cassidy," after the two lawmakers who introduced it in the Senate.

The bill, however, is anything but innocuous. Refusing to learn lessons from failures of the past, the bill makes it easier for private insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, eliminates the penalty for those refusing to buy insurance (originally a Republican idea), and slashes premium-lowering subsidies that make it easier for lower-income families to participate.

In a particularly nasty twist, Graham-Cassidy replaces open-ended Medicaid reimbursement to states with per-capita-based, fixed-sum block grants, which will harm states like Massachusetts that expanded their Medicaid programs and accepted federal funds after the ACA's passage. At the same time, it gives more money to those states that did not expand their programs to the benefit of their residents.

According to Governor Baker, a Republican who has staunchly battled his party's attempts in Washington to gut health care, the Massachusetts system stands to lose $8 billion over the next 10 years. Those most affected will be the disadvantaged and the underserved, groups that have never been much of a priority with Washington Republicans. The state's hospital system would suffer a crippling blow, adversely affecting all residents.

It's ironic that among red states, even Kentucky — whose Kynect insurance exchange is one of the more successful examples of how the ACA has enabled low-income citizens to receive health care for the first time in their lives — will take a hit if Graham-Cassidy passes. That is the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the driving force behind every attempt to repeal Obamacare.

One might naturally ask why Republicans in the Senate are trying to ram through a bill that would harm so many of their own constituents, even before the Congressional Budget Office has had a chance to fully assess the scope of the suffering it will potentially incur. The answer is enmeshed in the arcane world of partisan political strategy. Republicans are under pressure from right wing extremists to make good on their longtime vow, and President Trump is eager to destroy his predecessor's signature achievement out of spite. The GOP's unseemly haste on a bill that hasn't been debated in public, that members don't fully understand, assuming they have even read it, and whose impact on the budget deficit could be disastrous is cynically motivated by the need to act before September 30 under expiring reconciliation procedures that enable the party to pass the bill with 50+ senators. They know they will never get 60.

All in all, the latest GOP bill is a bad prescription for the country and the states that originally stepped up to the plate, like Massachusetts. For all of our sake, we hope that the constituents of senators supporting Graham-Cassidy wake up, begin acting in their own interests for once and pressure their politicians to stand down.


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