Longworth at Large

“GOP’s ‘Better Care’, Isn’t”

We all know that there’s a lot of hype in advertising, but most ads contain at least some modicum of truth. For example, a car that’s advertised as getting better gas mileage, usually does. A pain reliever that’s advertised as having extra strength, usually has it. And, toilet paper that’s advertised as being new and improved, usually is. So, last week when Senate Republicans finally released their secretive healthcare reform package, and advertised it as the “Better Care Reconciliation Act”, I assumed that it would offer “better care” than either Obama’s ACA, or Paul Ryan’s AHCA. As it turns out, though, the name “Better Care Act”, really just means it’s “Better than Nothing.”

After listening to Senator Mitch McConnell announce highlights of the BCRA, I went online and read through the 142 page bill, only to find that it is just as bad as the House version. The first indication of that was on page five, in a section titled, “Applicable Median Cost Benchmark Plan.” Section (B)ii provides for a health plan that, “has a premium which is the median premium of all qualified health plans…which are offered in the individual market.” The problem is that BCRA doesn’t impose caps on premiums, deductibles, or co-pays, nor does it enact a federal requirement for insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. Thus, that particular section seems moot because a median premium could end up being the median of unaffordable plans to begin with.

Perhaps the most cruel provision of BCRA, though, is tucked away on page 134. Section 204 covers “Change in Permissible Age Variation in Health Insurance Premium Rates”, and maintains the same “Age Tax” imposed by Ryan’s plan. Specifically, BCRA allows insurance companies to charge older persons (ages 50 to 64) five times the monthly premium as a younger person. That means a 49 year old man who pays $500 per month in premiums, might pay $2,500 per month one year later, even if there’s no change in his health. In a statement released on June 22, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said, “The Senate bill would hit millions of Americans with higher costs and result in less coverage for them. AARP is adamantly opposed to the Age Tax, which would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more for coverage than everyone else, while reducing tax credits that help make insurance more affordable.”

Ms. LeaMond also criticized the Republican led Senate for proffering a bill that, “cuts Medicaid funding that would strip health coverage from millions of low-income and vulnerable Americans who depend on the coverage, including 17 million poor seniors, and children and adults with disabilities…the Senate bill also cuts funding for Medicare, which weakens the programs ability to pay benefits, and leaves the door wide open to benefit cuts and Medicare vouchers.”

Former President Obama is also critical of the BCRA, writing on Facebook that, “…it’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.” Obama continued, “Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs…and millions of families could lose coverage entirely.”

As of this writing, not a single Senate Democrat plans to vote for BCRA, which means McConnell can only afford to lose the support of two fellow Republicans. But already, at least four GOP Senators have indicated they won’t vote for the plan. If those numbers hold, then the American people will be stuck with a failing Obamacare system from which insurance companies continue to flee. Under that scenario, it is possible that Congress would eventually have to consider the one healthcare reform they fear the most: Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan.

Sanders proposed his plan during the 2016 campaign, and engaged reputable economists to devise a way to pay for it without over taxing the average American. Critics on both the left and the right say Bernie’s plan amounts to socialized medicine. But I don’t hear any of those folks complaining about taxpayer supported schools, police, or military. If we have a right to free police protection, we should also have a right to free medical care. We shouldn’t have to live under the threat of bankruptcy in the event of a catastrophic illness, or become seriously ill because we can’t afford the medical care that we need.

Insurance companies pump millions of dollars into lobbying and campaign contributions each year. Eliminate them and you’ll eliminate the reason that many legislators are afraid of voting for substantive healthcare reform. In the meantime, we’re stuck with trying to replace one flawed healthcare system with another. Take my word for it, unlike toilet paper, there’s nothing new and improved about BCRA. I am, however, tempted to use one for getting rid of the other.

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