Until this week, the lies about death panels were some of the worst spread by Sarah Palin and the Republicans to scare seniors about health care reform and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now there's a real death panel, and John Boehner is in charge -- it's the Republican legislative campaign to undermine the ACA. Boehner and the Republicans want to give our health care back to the insurance companies, kill strong consumer protections that end the worst insurance company abuses and sentence more than 30,000 Americans a year to death because they can't afford health insurance.
As one of the first acts of the 112th Congress, the Republicans plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and all the benefits and consumer protections that are making a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans right now. What are they replacing it with? Nothing. They're referring that question to a bunch of committees that will deliberate for months and play political football with our lives and health. What does that really mean? It means letting the insurance companies off the hook so they can run roughshod over consumers and deny our care and jack up our rates whenever they please.
Here are some of the things that will happen in the real world if the Republicans are successful with repeal:
- Seniors who received $250 checks from Medicare last year to help buy prescription drugs will have to return the money to the Treasury Department.
- Seniors will lose the 50% discount on brand-name drugs when they have reached the "donut hole" of their prescription-drug plans - a benefit worth more than $12,500 over 10 years to those who qualify. Instead of closing over the next several years, the "donut hole" will stay open permanently.
- Seniors will stop receiving no-cost annual physicals, mammograms and cancer screenings under rules that had just taken effect this week. Also, a voluntary program to enable seniors to live independently would be wiped out, forcing more people to crowd into nursing homes.
- Millions of consumers, including children, will be denied coverage and care due to pre-existing conditions and branded "uninsurable." Health plans will go back to kicking young adults off their parents' coverage instead of providing benefits until age 26.
- Many Americans with sick family members will be forced to file for bankruptcy protection when insurers restore lifetime and annual caps on benefits.
- Health plan premiums will resume their double-digit increases as insurers return to grabbing however much they want from your premiums to pay for excessive profits, CEO pay, an army of lobbyists and a bureaucracy that turns away the sick. New programs to block unreasonable rate hikes would be dismantled.
- Taxpayers would pay hundreds of billions of dollars in excessive fees to private health insurance companies that enroll seniors in Medicare Advantage plans at much higher costs than if the government provided benefits directly. The Medicare trust fund's projected solvency will give back the 10-year extension it got from the ACA.
After a century of legislative and political combat, working families and small businesses finally won and ended the insurance companies' stranglehold over our health care. Naturally, Boehner wants to roll back the new health care law and let the health insurance companies resume their reign of terror. That's why Boehner and his band of corporate shills, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a raft of presidential wannabes, have made repealing the law the Republican Party's top priority for 2011.
The Congress needs to fix the economy and create millions of jobs to put American back to work, but instead Cantor prefers to make bogus claims about an election mandate to repeal the health care law. Nevermind that 68% of Americans favor consumer protections such as allowing people under 26 to remain on their parents' plans, and 60% don't want health insurers to turn away sick people. Cantor isn't deterred by facts because his mission is partisan politics, not governing.
And so is this typically understated comment from Boehner:
"I believe that the health care bill that was enacted by the current Congress will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world, and bankrupt our country... That means we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms to bring down the cost of health care."
Wow. Sounds like the end of the world as we know it.
Boehner and his fellow Republican repeal-mongers dismiss economic projections they don't like, such as those showing that the ACA will create millions of new jobs, that the law now requires insurers to use a new minimum acceptable percentage of premium dollars for actual medical care instead of profits and bureaucracy, and that the ACA will reduce the federal budget deficit.
The Republicans are kowtowing to right-wing extremists, corporate executives and billionaire investors who secretly spent millions of dollars to help Republican election campaigns last fall, including deceptive ads attacking the health care law. Those deceptions continue still. The ACA protects consumers from the worst health insurance company abuses and provides seniors with better health care through the Medicare program.
Thankfully Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate will stop Boehner in his tracks. However, when you cut through the political hyperbole, the GOP's search-and-destroy mission is serious business. The repeal vote in the House scheduled for next week is part of an all-out assault on the new law in the Congress, the courts and state legislatures. And it's an assault with well-funded corporate sponsors.
Everyone already knows that the Republican Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the health insurance industry and other profit-hungry corporations. In case there was any doubt, the Republicans have begun hiring insurance and health care industry lobbyists for key positions on committees and members' staffs. So far, two health care industry lobbyists have joined the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care legislation. One of them was named staff director. In addition, a top lobbyist from the medical device industry has joined Boehner's staff as policy director, a post he will undoubtedly use to try to roll back the new tax on medical devices that is part of the ACA. Expect to see more hires like these.
If that picture isn't disturbing enough, look at the cynical demagoguery of GOP presidential hopefuls, like Fox News personality and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee has been running TV commercials trashing the health care law and offering a petition to demand that Congress repeal it. It turns out that Huckabee hired a notorious scam artist to help him with the exploitative ad campaign, which is nothing more than a front to raise money. Three days after Think Progress reported about the scammer, Huckabee was forced to fire the guy. A few months ago, Huckabee, a Baptist minister with a pre-existing condition of his own, said it was OK for health insurance companies to turn their backs on people with pre-existing conditions. Like Boehner, he's the new face of the Republican Party on health care. He works for the insurance industry and other big corporations, not the rest of us.
The interests of middle class and working families are of no concern to Republican Party leaders. To them, it's just smart business to spend political capital on protecting the financial interests of the billionaires and big corporations who make up their base -- the "haves and the have-mores," as President George W. Bush famously described them.
And yet, these are the same Republicans who complain about having to wait a few weeks for their health benefits to take effect while they rush into the 112th Congress with a plan that will revive working families' fear of going bankrupt because of crushing medical expenses and of getting dropped from your insurance if you're sick.