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Gehrke: Why the House health care bill, like a hobbled Chaffetz, can't be allowed to stand

Published May 7, 2017 3:57 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jason Chaffetz learned how abruptly one's health can take a turn when he slipped and tumbled off a ladder about 12 years ago, shattering several bones in his foot.

He was lucky the injury wasn't worse. Doctors were able to reconstruct his foot, inserting 14 screws and a metal plate to repair the damage.

Last week, the Utah congressman had a follow-up surgery that was supposed to sideline him for weeks, but his party needed him.



So there he was, scooting through the Capitol on a push scooter to gut President Barack Obama's signature health care law, strip millions of people of their medical coverage and wipe out fundamental protections for millions more.

What heroism!

After the narrow vote, House Republicans jaunted up to the White House Rose Garden to celebrate their triumph with President Donald Trump, who mugged for cameras and hailed the historic occasion. After all, it's not every day the House passes a bill that would:

• Drive up premiums for low- and middle-income families and increase premiums for those over age 40 by as much as 30 percent.

• Allow insurers to refuse to cover or limit coverage for maternity care, hospitalizations and prescription drugs.

• Slash more than $880 billion from coverage for low-income Americans.

• Eliminate caps that provide the last defense for families facing catastrophic illnesses.

And, yes, despite the spin, it would allow insurers to charge thousands of dollars a year more to individuals with pre-existing conditions like pregnancy, cancer, asthma, diabetes and many others ­— not denying coverage, but making it unaffordable.

According to a recent report from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 23 percent of Utahns under age 65, close to 400,000 people, have pre-existing conditions that could be the basis for jacking up premiums.

Depressed yet? Don't be.

You see, depression is one of those pre-existing conditions that could cost you drastically more and that insurers would no longer be required to cover.

An analysis of an earlier version of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office projected that the GOP plan would cost 24 million Americans their health insurance. This time, Republicans were in such a rush to pass the bill — breaking their own pledge to release all legislation at least two days before any votes — that we don't understand the full impacts.

Frankly, I'm not one of those who gets upset about members of Congress not reading the bill because I'm convinced that, even if they read it, they would need it explained to them.

And, really, you don't need to read it to know the bill they backed is an absolute unworkable mess.

Ask Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of 13 members crafting the Senate's bill, who said: "Unfortunately, that bill contains numerous fatal procedural flaws and much of it will have to be rewritten. In fact, it will probably have to be re-envisioned entirely."

Utah hospitals also are deeply concerned about what the bill could mean. What happens when those millions of Americans get sick or pull a Chaffetz and take a spill off a ladder?

"Where do the Americans without insurance go? They go back to having no coverage or they go to the hospital and go to the emergency room, so we're back to where we were before Obamacare," said Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association.

The emergency room is not only the most expensive place to get care, he said, but also a bad place to have chronic conditions treated. The Republican proposal must change.

"[The bill] politically, tactically and humanely cannot pass with this kind of draconian cut in the numbers of insured," Bell said. "It's just untenable."

Look, Obamacare was far from perfect. The Supreme Court blew a major hole in the plan when it ruled states could opt out of Medicaid expansion and many, like Utah, did just that.

It left Obamacare as a sort of three-wheeled ambulance. But its shortcomings notwithstanding, the program's successes have been striking.

The number of Utah's uninsured has dropped by roughly a third since Obamacare became law and is at the lowest level — less than 9 percent — in more than a decade. It would have been much lower had Utah lawmakers not stubbornly refused any form of Medicaid expansion.

Nearly 200,000 Utahns, a quarter of them children, now receive health coverage through the Obamacare marketplace.

That translates to nearly 60,000 constituents of Rep. Mia Love, 55,000 residents in Chaffetz's district, more than 50,000 in Rep. Chris Stewart's, and more than 30,000 in Rep. Rob Bishop's.

Regardless of the devastating consequences for their constituents, all four were there Thursday, marching — or scooting, as the case may be — to the anti-Obama drumbeat.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

 

 

 

 

 

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