The third leg of a perfect storm was positioned last week on health care costs. Bearing down first was the unstoppable power of the lobbyists of the drug and insurance industries. The second was the hollow zealotry of liberal Democrats who passed the Affordable Health Care Act. The most recent blow came with repeal of the law by the brand-new House Republican majority (but not the Senate.)
The victims are not a half-dozen doomed fishermen caught off the Grand Banks in a heaving boat, as in the book and the movie, but millions of New Yorkers.
New Yorkers are especially vulnerable to the Affordable Health Care Act because the state's Medicaid program -- that's the one originally intended for the poor and elderly -- is already the most generous in the nation.
Medicare -- the Social Security-based health system -- is a big source of income for the state's hospital industry. Betsy McCaughey, the former GOP lieutenant governor, says that Medicare revenue will be severely restricted when the government bleeds Medicare to pay for the massive expansion of Medicaid under the act.
The laws expands eligibility for Medicaid in the state an estimated 27 percent three years from now. This also spells disaster for individual taxpayers, she says. Counties as well as the state bear the cost of this expansion. While other states will get 100 percent federal aid for expanding their Medicaid programs, New York won't because its program is already stretched to the limits.
Other than those points, repeal defies common sense. Rep. Chris Lee of Amherst voted for repeal with all other House Republicans. He says the exploding cost of health care will be contained by such GOP proposals as tort reform, expansion of health savings accounts and letting health insurers sell plans across state lines. As well intended as that is, those ideas will have next to no effect on premiums that have already doubled in New York in the last decade. The elections of 2012 may well show that the dumbest move House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made was to pass repeal and go home without putting up anything to replace it.
Republicans claim the law is a "job killer." They have no proof of that. The real job killers are the soaring premiums that individuals and employers are paying because of Republican and corporate influence. Repeal was a tepid sop to the tea partyers. It signaled the subtle capture of the tea party to Washington insider-lobbyists who financed a lot of the movement.
As before, Republicans will be looking to the same special interests that killed health care reform in 1994 to write their "replace" legislation. Who wants to bet that any Republican leadership bill would outlaw insurance companies against dropping people who get sick, or ban customers who have pre-existing conditions or cap insurance payouts?
The law, weak as it is, already covers many of these problems, such as guaranteeing coverage for children with pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, because of corporate influence on President Obama and on Senate Democrats, as well as the Republicans, no one will support driving drug prices down using group buying, or the public option experiment that would control premium increases.
But more than 200,000 New York seniors have already received $250 to defray drug expenses. Large groups like AARP, women's health and cancer victims' support clusters are pounding Republicans for voting for repeal.
Polls show that opposition to the health care law created by misleading radio rants is already softening. As presidential and congressional elections near, more voters will realize that congressional Republicans want to kill benefits they already have and like.
Even though they can only leave repeal an unfinished roast, the Republicans think they have concocted an appetizing winner for next year. The prediction here is that whatever they produce will burn in the oven.