Politics & Policy

Stop the Health-Care Blame Game

(Photo: Demerzel21/Dreamstime)
Why everyone — or no one — is to blame for the collapse of health-care reform

Contrary to what many pundits and politicians are claiming this morning, Mike Lee is not the problem with the Senate’s failed effort on health care. Neither is Jerry Moran. And neither is any other single politician. As we wallow in the aftermath of another utter collapse of the GOP health-care reform effort, there’s more than enough blame to go around; no one is immune from fault in this latest iteration of the ongoing debacle.

Regardless of which particular policy outcome you were pulling for this round, heaping all the responsibility on the shoulders of one defector or even a handful of individuals does absolutely nothing to solve the problems currently facing the party and the country on health care. This is a systemic failure, and it’s one that won’t be fixed by pointing angry fingers at any of the most readily available targets.

Last night’s surprise defections undoubtedly doomed the latest Senate draft. But if Lee, Moran, and other conservative senators deserve a share of the blame for opposing this bill on principle — or even on the perfectly reasonable grounds that it won’t reduce premiums enough to be worthwhile — then plenty of other targets have earned similar derision for their stubbornness.

What about the so-called Republican moderates, who simply couldn’t countenance supporting legislation that would touch Medicaid or cause any of their low-income constituents to lose the health insurance they gained under Obamacare?

Maybe Susan Collins didn’t put the final nail in the coffin yesterday evening, but her unflinching support of Planned Parenthood funding, for one thing, certainly played a role in stymying reform. So, too, did Rob Portman and Shelley Capito Moore, who both hesitated to throw their support behind a bill that made any changes to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, even though the suggested reforms would subdue Medicaid’s out-of-control growth, making it more sustainable in the long term.

While it’s true that GOP leadership set itself a nearly impossible task — designing a reform that could somehow please everyone — the party had nearly seven and a half years to contemplate a repeal-and-replace bill. Somehow, though, those seven and half years yielded only a bill that attempted to split the baby. Perhaps it was never politically feasible to please both free-market-reform conservatives and Medicaid-preserving moderates, but surely one can imagine a more promising draft and more-successful negotiation efforts than those actually put forth by the leadership.

And if those negotiations failed, as they did time and again over the past month, a competent, savvy Republican president might have been able to make up the difference. Instead, Donald Trump evidently lacked the political capital and intellectual substance to forge any kind of compromise on health care. He apparently went into office with next to no idea of what he wanted in terms of policy, and his famed “deal-making” ability either disappeared or was rendered null by his unpopularity, dearth of political experience, and general unwillingness to grasp how Washington works.

If anyone in Washington is still remotely serious about fixing our health-care system, the GOP needs to provide solutions, not scapegoats.

Senate Democrats might believe that they’ve kept their hands clean by refusing to work with Republicans on reform, but that silence has made them far from guiltless. After at least a year of admitting there were problems with the Obamacare system, Democratic senators — as an entire bloc — have flatly refused to consider altering even one word of the flawed legislation to address ongoing premium and deductible hikes and insurers fleeing the exchanges. As a result, they completely forfeited any influence they might’ve had in writing a bipartisan reform that would at least address some of the underlying problems with the ACA.

It’s clear that there are plenty of deserving candidates — not only Lee and his fellow conservatives — upon whom commentators and politicians can heap blame if they choose to do so. But casting blame isn’t the right strategy this afternoon, and it won’t be the right strategy if the party ever wants to accomplish real reform. If anyone in Washington is still remotely serious about fixing our health-care system, the GOP needs to provide solutions, not scapegoats. Politics is a long game, and these are early days.

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