Senate health care bill: What about bipartisanship?

Our view: Senate’s last attempt at an Obamacare repeal-and-replace is so awful it might just lay the groundwork for Democrats and Republicans to hash out a compromise

Earlier this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation asked a representative sample of Americans a pretty straightforward question: Should Obamacare be repealed and replaced, or should Republicans work with Democrats to fix the Affordable Care Act? The result was not even close. By a 71-to-23 percent margin, people want to see the ACA fixed. Only Republican respondents continued to cling to the repeal-and-replace mantra, with 54 percent reportedly still on the bandwagon.

With the latest Senate Republican plan on health care just as unacceptable as the previous one — and more about the awfulness released Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a moment — the repair-and-reinforce approach is not only what most Americans want, it’s the only workable alternative available. If they go it alone, Senate Republicans simply aren’t capable of producing a 50-vote bloc, as nothing that could possible please tea party conservatives is going to fly with the party’s handful of centrists. The biggest obstacle isn’t the issue of health care, which may be complex but which plenty of other countries around the world have found a way to do better for less money. The real problem is that the conversation about Obamacare has simply become too doctrinaire, a constant regurgitation of meaningless talking points like “Obamacare is imploding” that are misleading to the point of idiocy.

And speaking of idiocy, the latest version of the health care bill couldn’t possibly have been meant to pass. Remember the backlash when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 22 million Americans would lose health insurance under the last Senate version? Well, this one might leave more without coverage. There are drastic cuts to Medicaid and a return to rules that would allow health insurers to refuse coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies would be able to sell policies that don’t cover as much. Meanwhile there’s still a handout to the wealthy, some rollback of taxes and a bigger tax break for those who can afford health savings accounts.

So what exactly did Senator McConnell offer moderates? Mostly, it appears, more money to fight the opioid epidemic, which is nice, but hardly more than a gesture.

Obviously, the drama in the Senate is going to have to play out this week. Mr. McConnell has already delayed the August recess so it might even last longer. Certainly, President Donald Trump will post some more tweets criticizing Republicans for not rallying behind the legislation (most likely while revealing a distinct lack of knowledge about the proposal himself). But when the dust settles, no amount of CPR is going to animate this corpse of a bill. There simply isn’t much on its pages to get Sens. Rand Paul, Susan Collins or John McCain (and probably several more) on board. There will be some upset, some finger-pointing, some gnashing of teeth. But this is where (hopefully) the phony-baloney partisan repeal-and-replace campaign ends — a crusade built on so much misinformation that quite a few Trump supporters in places like Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky were startled to discover in recent months that the repeal meant they’d lose insurance themselves.

What’s next? It’s going to require a much more democratic process with hearings and open debate. Democrats will have to recognize that overall health care spending must be reduced while Republicans must stop sabotaging the ACA and de-stablizing the exchanges. The Senate will have to lead the effort, perhaps emulating the example of cooperation offered by Sens. Mark Warner and Richard Burr on the Senate Intelligence Committee and their bipartisan approach to investigating Russian meddling in the last election. Perhaps President Trump might even get on board. Surely, he can see the wisdom of putting aside the hackneyed politics and actually addressing the issues involved.

Why? Because Americans would be ever so grateful to have affordable health insurance. That’s really the bottom line. They don’t won’t to be frozen out because they have a pre-existing condition like cancer or be forced into bankruptcy when they try to get treatment. Average folks don’t really care about the politics inside the beltway, they just want to be able to see a health care provider when necessary.

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