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The truth about Obamacare's numbers you won't hear from Roe

Judy Garland • May 15, 2019 at 6:15 AM

Rep. Phil Roe’s latest messaging on healthcare is petty. He rehashes worn propaganda on Obamacare and the Medicare for All proposition but offers no new thing. He even sinks to a misleading dig about England’s National Health Service.

He says Democrats “predicted 27 million Americans would gain coverage by 2019, but the actual number was only 11.4.” What he doesn’t tell you is that his number doesn’t include those who stay on parents’ plans until age 26 and those millions who are now covered under Medicaid expansion. He’s right that it doesn’t quite add up to 27 million, but likely the prediction would be on target if the Supreme Court hadn’t allowed states to refuse Medicaid expansion and Trump and congressional Republicans had kept their destructive hands off it.

He says squarely that we shouldn’t believe a word Democrats say. He says if Democrats get their way, 180 million people — including 22 million seniors on Medicare Advantage — will lose their healthcare “overnight.” As I recall, it took four years to implement Obamacare, and Democrats certainly understand the complexities involved and know the best minds and the greatest care will be necessary to transition to any reformed system. This seems an odd thing for Roe to say since Republicans are trying to repeal Obamacare literally overnight with nothing to replace it. Maybe because most of the millions of people who would be affected are lower income or poor? They’ve also given no thought to what happens to people with pre-existing conditions.

He quotes the $32 trillion dollar estimate of Medicare for All over 10 years which the Mercatus Institute (heavily funded by the libertarian Koch Brothers) distributes in scary headlines with selected parts of their study. Roe says it will actually cost trillions more. If he’d actually read the study, he would have found that, in spite of their scary headlines, Mercatus’s own analysts found that Medicare for All would be cheaper than what we have now and would actually cost trillions less over time. The people behind that propaganda deliberately mislead about any positive change, especially reform supported by majority public opinion that threatens their dominance. Roe shouldn’t be their mouthpiece.

Here’s why we must elect both a Democrat House and Senate to ever make progress on reigning in healthcare costs and providing everyone access to care. I heard the former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services under Obama, Andrew Slavitt, speak about the toxic politics surrounding the first years of Obamacare. (CSPAN Healthcare Costs Summit, Morning Session, April 2) He spoke of having a Congress who told him outright that if there were any problems with the ACA, they wanted it to get worse, not better, because it didn’t achieve their political agenda. The Republican-dominated Congress was unmoved by images of millions of Americans signing up for health insurance, many for the first time. Roe did his best to make a name for himself in that toxic stew, at that level where oaths are taken to uphold the law and serve the public good..

Slavitt stated we’ll never be successful without the willingness to sit down and make it better because we never, and I repeat, NEVER, get something so complicated more than 70% right from the beginning. The day Obamacare was passed was the best it would ever be because of Republicans and industry lobbyists determined to impede, and ultimately destroy, a law of the land. Slavitt saw up close the worst of our broken healthcare politics.

The Gary and Mary West Health Institute funded and hosted the daylong healthcare cost summit, and Gary was first interviewee. He and his wife Mary started the institute 40 years ago because of glaring inequalities and inadequacies in America’s healthcare system. It cost too much then and costs have steadily spiraled upward since. He says the health care industry shouldn’t be different from other industries, in that the goals should be better, faster, cheaper. That doesn’t happen with costs off the radar. This is neither justified or sustainable in an industry dealing in life and death.

The explanation, West says, lies in the horrifying fact that the health care industry is, in every way, a cartel, just like any other operating on our planet. Cartel: “an association of manufacturers and suppliers with the purpose of maintaining a level of high prices and restricting competition.’’ Eliminating competition. Maximizing profits. Who is in the healthcare cartel? To name some: insurers, providers, pharmaceuticals, pharmacy benefit managers, medical technicians, and an army of lobbyists to protect the status quo and their own interests, to the detriment of patients. There are laudable exceptions throughout the system who know the direction is wrong and hurtful, but they’re not the ones steering the ship.

And then the politicians. Here’s how bad it is. The House Democrats will pass a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, like the VA does. Roe will find reason to vote against it with his party. Ever looking out for big money, Mitch McConnell has already said it won’t get a Senate hearing.

Judy Garland of Johnson City is a community health care activist.

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