Congressional leaders need to rethink health care bill strategy

Guest Editorial
Timing, as they say, is everything.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) is plunging ahead as the point man on Republican efforts to undo the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in March. But the timing is off.

As control of the House of Representatives returns to Republicans, Upton and other members of the GOP have been making the talk show rounds to present their agenda. Upton has taken on the task of leading an attempt to repeal the health care bill, called “Obamacare” by its detractors. He is doing this in his capacity as incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, one of the House committees that oversees health policy.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Upton said, “As part of our pledge, we said that we would bring up a vote to repeal health care early. That will happen before the president’s State of the Union address.”

The State of the Union address is usually given around the end of January or early February, so the Republicans plan to move quickly.

Upton is making these com-ments as new provisions of the health care bill go into effect, provisions that largely benefit senior citizens. For example, beginning this year, senior citizens will be able to receive the following medical services for free once each year: annual physical exams, bone mass measurements, flu and hepatitis shots, mammograms, glaucoma tests, Pap tests and pelvic exams, smoking cessation help, and screenings for potential cardio-vascular, colorectal, diabetes and prostate problems.

Also going into effect is a 50-percent discount on brand-name drugs for senior citizens who are in the Medicare “doughnut hole” — the coverage gap which was built into the drug plan that requires consumers to pay the full cost of prescriptions for a period of time.

Starting on March 23, national restaurant chains also will have to provide nutritional information in their facilities.

Beginning this year, parents may continue to have their children — through the age of 26 — covered under their health plans.

The limit insurance companies may spend on an individual’s health care is also being raised this year to $750,000.

All of these measures should benefit millions of Americans. What the House Republicans are threatening to do, according to The Wall Street Journal, is starve the law of funding and stage a symbolic repeal vote. It may not affect consumer changes that don’t require spending.

Instead of taking a careful look at the bill with an eye toward fixing its problems, Upton and others allied with him in this effort are going after a largely political and symbolic repeal.

With a clear majority of 242 Republicans in the House, they may have the votes to do just that. However, the Senate, which is still held by the Democrats with a 53 to 47 majority, is unlikely to go along. And, even if they do squeak out a repeal in the Senate, it’s certain President Obama will veto the measure.

Upton is optimistic: “I don’t think we’re going to be that far off from having the votes to actually override a veto.”

Yet, even if the attempt to repeal the bill fails, they would then go after it “piece by piece,” Upton says.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been controversial since it passed. A Virginia judge recently struck down a provision in the act and further challenges are pending.

However, there are many provisions in the bill that are beneficial to consumers. It is also equally clear that steps must be taken to stop runaway health care costs.

Why not keep the best, most beneficial, parts of the legislation and craft new legislation to address the problems? That would make the most sense.

The path Upton and other congressional leaders are choosing will just continue the dysfunction that has wasted time and taxpayer money for the past several years.

They should reconsider this action and seek to strategically revise, not repeal, the law.