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GOP lawmakers try to strip affordable health care goals from Biden agenda

House Republicans attempted to kill provisions of the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan that would expand coverage and lower drug prices.

By Josh Israel - September 15, 2021
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Lloyd Smucker, Pennsylvania, House Ways and Means Committee

Congressional Republicans are taking aim at provisions in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better investment proposal that would make health care more affordable.

House committees are currently marking up their portions of the package. The GOP minority has used the hearings to push a series of amendments that would destroy key provisions aimed at expanding health insurance coverage, lowering drug prices, and providing paid medical leave.

When the Democratic majority rejected those efforts, Republicans accused them of leaving constituents to die.

The 2009 Affordable Care Act offered states funding to expand Medicaid eligibility. Though this voluntary program is quite popular, even in red states, 11 GOP-run states have refused to implement the expansion.

Democrats are now seeking to address that as part of the investment package, creating a new federal program for those eligible people who live in states that have blocked Medicaid expansion, prompting GOP pushback.

Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin tweeted early Wednesday, “Federalizing Medicaid takes our country one step closer to Democrats’ dream of Medicare for all. It is time to stop playing partisan politics with American lives.”

The House Republican caucus’ policy arm warned that providing health insurance for millions would be fatal for many, claiming baselessly, “The dangers of Medicaid expansion aren’t just the out of control spending needed to pay for it but the lives that will be lost as people wait in line for health care under it.”

A 2019 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study found expansion has saved at least 19,000 lives thus far.

On Tuesday, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee unsuccessfully tried to obliterate the proposed federal expansion, slamming it as a “backdoor to create a public option.”

The committee’s minority tweeted that Democrats “WANT the federal government to pick winners and losers on health insurance and determine what health insurance plans are best for you and your family.”

“Democrats are continuing their lurch toward socialized medicine by building their bridge to Medicare for All and government run health care,” they added.

Republicans also opposed the fact that Biden’s package includes the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, a proposal to lower the cost of several common medications by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices and buy treatments in bulk.

The pharmaceutical industry — and the Republican lawmakers they have bankrolled — have argued that by reducing pharma profits, it will mean less incentive for research and development of new medications. Mullin predicted Tuesday, for example, that it would mean “fewer cures and treatments” and “less hope for millions of Americans living with diseases.”

After Democrats rejected GOP attempts to kill the health care amendments on Tuesday, Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee proclaimed that the majority had “prolonged Americans’ suffering from chronic illness and costly care.”

Ways and Means Republicans also accused Democrats of rejecting “commonsense amendments” that would have watered down paid family and medical leave provisions in the legislation.

Among those defeated proposals were Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s (R-PA) “Strengthening our Workforce Amendment,” which would take away paid leave from anyone who had not been employed in at least four of the last five quarters, and Rep. Drew Ferguson’s (R-GA) “Defending Small Business Owners Amendment” to require at least a month’s notice for taking leave for any foreseeable reason.

Polling indicates the GOP’s efforts may be largely unpopular with a majority of the country.

A Morning Consult/Politico survey in March showed that around 70% of Americans support a public option for health insurance.

A 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation Health poll found 86% support among U.S. adults for prescription drug price reform.

And while a Congressional Budget Office estimate in December 2019 did predict that the drug price legislation could lead to less research and development, it predicted “approximately 8 fewer drugs” would be created over the next 10 years in total and “about 30 fewer drugs over the subsequent decade.”

While Democrats are pushing to expand health care access, some Republicans are actively trying to roll it back.

Earlier this month, in a town hall appearance first flagged by the progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was asked by a constituent about whether Medicare should be protected and strengthened.

He answered that doing so was “very difficult to accomplish when we have the trustees for the Medicare system saying by 2026 the trust fund is going to run out of money” and proposed that “Republicans and Democrats sit down together and everything’s going to have to be on the table” to reduce shortfalls in Medicare and Social Security.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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