Short Takes On News & Events

GOP Says Coverage For The Uninsured Is Not Their Priority

By Julie Rovner, NPR News

July 27th, 2012, 10:45 AM

This story comes from our partner¬ ‚Äės Shots blog.

For decades, the primary goal of those who would fix the U.S. health system has been to help people without insurance get coverage. Now, it seems, all that may be changing. At least some top Republicans are trying to steer the health debate away from the problem of the uninsured.

Sen. McConnell (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The shift in emphasis is a subtle one, but it’s noticeable.

Take this exchange between¬ Fox News Sunday¬†host Chris Wallace and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)¬ earlier this month, just after the Supreme Court upheld most of President Obama’s health law.

Wallace: “What specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?”

McConnell: “That is not the issue. … The question is how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system? It is already the finest health care system in the world.”

Wallace: “But you don’t think that 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?”

McConnell: “Let me tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system. That is exactly what is at the heart of Obamacare. They want to have the federal government take over all of American health care.”

By “Western European,” McConnell means government-run or primarily government-run. Western European countries also pretty much¬ don’t have people who don’t have health insurance. And by the way, there are¬ closer to 50 million Americans¬†without health insurance; 30 million is the number the health law is estimated likely to cover.

But McConnell isn’t the only top Republican saying covering the uninsured should no longer be the top priority.

“Conservatives cannot allow themselves to be browbeaten by failing to provide the same coverage numbers as Obamacare,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told a conference at the conservative¬ American Enterprise Institute. “To be clear, it is a disgrace that so many American families go without health insurance coverage. But we cannot succumb to the pressure to argue on the left’s terms.”

So if getting more people coverage isn’t the goal, what is?

“Your goal should be reducing costs, and expanding individual liberty,” said Dean Clancy, who also spoke at the¬ AEI conference. He’s legislative counsel for¬ Freedomworks, a group that supports and trains Tea Party activists.

But Clancy says reducing costs doesn’t mean doing nothing, even though that’s what many of the people he talks to would prefer. “What they don’t often understand is the government has already screwed it up significantly, such that we have no choice but to try to reform, to undo the wrong things we’ve done,” he said.

Clancy is only one of many policy types who are trying to convince more Republicans to put expanding coverage on the back burner. Another is Michael Cannon, head of health policy at the libertarian¬ Cato Institute.

Cannon has long questioned the idea that expanding insurance coverage should be the holy grail of health reform.

“The idea that the government should guarantee health insurance to everybody passes as really gospel in health policy circles, without any serious consideration, without any sort of examination of why is it that we want people to have health insurance, is health insurance the best way to serve those goals, could there be lower-cost ways of achieving those goals,” he said.

People need to have the freedom not to have insurance if the marketplace is to function properly, he says. “Because if they don’t have freedom, if the government is requiring them to purchase health insurance either from a private company or the government, then the government gets to define what health insurance is, and that stifles a lot of innovation in the health insurance and health care delivery markets, and we’re suffering under that sort of regulation right now,” he says.

But supporters of the health care law say arguments about making the marketplace function better are all a big smokescreen.

“Every once in a while, the Republicans have rare moments of honesty. And so when they say that they don’t want to expand coverage, this is one of those rare moments,” says Ethan Rome, who runs¬ Health Care for America Now, an advocacy group working to promote and defend the health care law.

“They look around and they see middle-class families and others in need, and what do they want to do? They want to give tax breaks to the super rich,” he says. “That’s who they are and what they do. And I think that’s why they’re starting to talk about how they don’t want to expand coverage. Because they at least want to be truthful about a couple of things. And those are the ways in which they want to abandon certain populations and be frank about it.”

Other analysts see a more calculated political tactic, however, in GOP efforts to downplay coverage expansions. They say it’s more like class warfare: Republicans want to paint the health care law as requiring people who already have health insurance to help pay for those who don’t. It will be up to supporters to demonstrate how the law is helping those who do have insurance keep it and pay less.

4 Responses to “GOP Says Coverage For The Uninsured Is Not Their Priority”

  1. sally rich says:

    Regarding health care, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks having 30 million uninsured Americans “is not the issue”? Gee, I wonder what those 30 million uninsured Americans think? Seems to me, the GOP has absolutely no compassion for those 30 million uninsured Americans. I hope most of those 30 million uninsured Americans will be voting in November. I hope those 30 million uninsured Americans can see the clear difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party on health care policy. Republicans could not care less about uninsured Americans. President Obama and Democrats have already passed and enacted accessible and affordable health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act. The choice could not be much clearer. Republicans want to return us to insurance company controlled health care that can be canceled for any reason they choose. Democrats have already gotten for you a lifetime of accessible and affordable health care that can never be canceled for any reason. For those 30 million uninsured that Republicans don’t care about, the choice is crystal clear.

  2. oliver lindsay says:

    It’s can’t be repeated enough… Republicans are lying when they say that, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), those will health insurance will pay for those that don’t. Fact is, with the Supreme Court approved individual mandate, everyone is responsible to purchase their own health care policy. When the ACA is in full force, virtually everyone will have health insurance. Will poor people be subsidized? Yes! Just like they were before the Affordable Care Act! Republicans have been lying about this ever since the ACA law was signed. Lying is what Republicans do.

  3. Athena says:

    The Republicans may be inartful in their statements but they are actually more truthful than Democrats. Coverage for the uninsured was not the priority for the electoral majority that supported healthcare reform in early 2008. Most people wanted actual reform that would improve their own situation — they wanted to decouple coverage from employement, lower copays, and better coverage. They assumed that actual reform would also result in better/ increased coverage for those who were shut out of insurance.

    The Democrats took a legitimate majority concern and went off in a completely different direction; deepening the the dependence on employer plans (which have in fact been decreasing for the past 15 years) and creating a new poverty program. Healthcare in this country is unaffordable. That’s why all the talk is about how to get someone else — whether it be an employer or the goverment — to pay the bills. The rhetoric about “personal responsibility” is belied by the fact that the only people who were already taking responsibility for their own coverage were completely ignored: they are the only people who get no tax consideration for their personal coverage.

    I don’t believe for a minute that the Republican mouthpieces have any objective but to defeat Obama. The outrage on the left though is manufactured because, while they may be more compassionate, the majority of the Democratic constituency feels betrayed by what happened.

  4. Paula says:

    If Obama can take credit for anything to do with health care reform, it’s that he has put it squarely on the front burner of the stove and has turned the dial up to maximum heat. Ten years ago, nobody talked about health care reform. The GOP controlled both houses of Congress back then and George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office. Republicans were completely happy that the health insurance lobby had a death-grip on the industry and that health insurance executives were making money hand over fist. Life was good for the typical health insurance CEO during Bush’s first term and the word was out to change absolutely nothing. Then, along comes a black man and he has the audacity to get himself elected President. How dare he do such an impudent thing! Obama getting elected President really shocked old school Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Jon Kly. How dare he do that! Bottom line? In spite of the fact that the health insurance companies will get extremely wealthy with all of the new business Obamacare brings, the new law does something much more important. Obamacare has put single-payer on the fast track. The more Republicans whine and cry and make noise about the new law, the closer and closer we get to “true” universal health care. We talk about Republicans being “inartful”. My dear friend, that is an understatement! The word that come to my mind is “stupid”. Republicans do really stupid things. Like stirring the pot with regard to Obamacare. Republicans always make things worse for themselves by getting real noisy about stuff they don’t like. Usually, their noise ends up backfiring and they end up looking really stupid. Mark my words. This “repeal” noise that we constantly hear from some of the loudest members of the GOP will backfire. Why? Because they have nothing as a replacement. That’s called a “void”. The thing these loud mouths fear the most is single-payer. Guess what? They’ll need something to fill the “void” they create. Could that void be filled with single-payer? Who knows. But judging by the dumb stuff we’ve seen Republicans do so far, we may see single-payer much sooner than you think.