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Editorial: Hastily passed GOP bill does little to fix health care's shortcomings

If anyone had hoped House Republicans would get serious about health care in their third effort this spring to undo the Affordable Care Act, they were sorely dis-appointed. Members voted to approve a law they hadn’t read and, because the Congressional Budget Office hadn’t even scored it yet, one they didn’t understand.

It was a disgrace and, sadly, one that was enthusiastically supported by Reps. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Tom Reed, R-Corning. The ACA absolutely needs to be reformed and improved, but if that happens, it will be because the Senate ignores the train wreck approved in the House and starts from scratch.

The bill that crashed the gates in the House does nothing to lower costs or improve care, the two necessary requirements of any health care initiative. The misstatements – actually, lies – notwithstanding, the measure undermines care for those with pre-existing conditions and cuts funding to Medicaid, all in service of a huge tax cut that will disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans.

Thus, the seven years of bellyaching and phony efforts of repeal actually meant nothing. This measure was thrown together in a matter of weeks, has almost nothing to do with health care and is a transparent giveaway to the rich.

And to make matters worse, because of Collins’ handiwork, the bill cavalierly tosses a wrench into New York State’s finances, not in a way meant to solve a problem, but to create a crisis. If this is the House’s conception of public service, then America has a problem.

The problem is that, in the tradition of all zealots, the writers of this measure started in the wrong place. They have bought into the fallacy that providing access to affordable, quality health care is somehow un-American. It makes no sense. An unhealthy nation is a drain – on finances, opportunities and national security. We have a compelling interest in creating a system that, as best as reasonably possible, allows Americans to pursue good health.

That doesn’t mean the United States has to copy the Canadian or British or Australian health care systems, or any other nation’s, for that matter. If Congress tried, it could produce an American system that works within the traditional structures of American life – one that would attract enough support from Democrats and Republicans to survive the critics on the fringes.

In fact, something like that happened with the ACA, aka Obamacare. Unlike single-payer systems, the ACA left the health insurance industry intact and, in fact, delivered more customers to insurers through the mandate to carry coverage. Depending upon incomes, that coverage could be subsidized by the government. It was a conservative approach, similar to one that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, implemented in that state.

Yet, the law drew no support from Republicans who were more interested in opposing President Barack Obama than in finding a solution to the problem of millions of uninsured Americans and the disturbing fact that medical expenses are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcies in this country. By approving the American Health Care Act, they showed their continuing disdain regarding the health of Americans.

They said the law continued to protect those with pre-existing conditions, but it doesn’t. It throws them to the wolves. The measure allows insurers to charge those unfortunate people premiums they could never afford, defeating the purpose of insurance and, in effect, allowing insurers to cover only people less likely to need care.

Republicans said the measure continues to protect the poor, but it doesn’t. The House bill cuts $880 billion from Medicaid, penalizing those who are sick and poor, so Congress can deliver a tax cut to rich Americans.

Collins says his maneuver to forbid states from passing along Medicaid costs to counties will save county taxpayers millions of dollars, but it will only transfer those costs to the state without the state having any say in the matter. Either way, taxpayers pay. Relieving counties of that expense isn’t a bad idea, but if good government matters, it’s one that needs to be more thoughtfully implemented. This was Collins poking a stick in state government’s eye.

Americans deserve better than this bill and Congress is certainly capable of delivering better. The cost of premiums is becoming a problem in the ACA. It needs attention. So do issues such as the price of prescription drugs, unnecessary tests and medical malpractice premiums. There are solutions to those issues that could help lower costs and improve care.

Republicans own the government right now. They have the chance to craft a bill that builds on the strengths of the ACA by putting their stamp on it. With the House bill, members are spinning. Senators need to follow through on their promise to start over.

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