Editorial: Health care shouldn’t be political fight | Editorial

When you go to the doctor’s office or hospital, no one asks if you are covered by a Republican health plan or a Democratic health plan.

But as Congress returns after its July 4 recess, Senate Republicans will try again to approve a health care plan that likely will be opposed by every Democrat in the Senate and House. Seven years ago, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, was approved in a down-to-the-wire Senate vote without any Republican support.

This continuing partisan battle involving the nation’s health care is a sign of the animosity between the two parties and their apparent lack of understanding of how their refusal to work together hurts Americans.

If this process is to continue as a political fight pitting partisans against each other, maybe Congress should establish a Democratic plan and a Republican plan and let individuals choose based on the costs and coverage of each one. Then perhaps the two sides would be accountable only to their own constituents and solely responsible for the success or failure of what they approve.

It won’t happen that way, of course, nor should it, because the problems are too big and the issue too important to be addressed this way. But neither will the partisan divide resolve itself anytime soon. And that’s the real problem.

The plan being considered by Senate Republicans won’t fix the flaws of Obamacare, which is suffering from high costs and limited access in many places. It never delivered fully on some of the promises Democrats and President Barack Obama made when approving the law. But it did significantly expand health coverage for poor and vulnerable people, and those with pre-existing conditions.

Republican lawmakers who criticized Obamacare should have at least acknowledged their party did little to address the problems when it had opportunities to do so.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that after waiting seven years to kill Obamacare and implement their own plan, Republican leaders seem to have been caught unprepared, and their hastily formed proposals reveal how much attention they had given to repealing Obamacare and how little thought they had given to replacing it.

The plans they have offered are deeply flawed.

According to the Congressional Budget Office projections, the Senate plan would result in 22 million people losing – or giving up – their insurance coverage. That figure is only slightly better than the 23 million the CBO projected would lose coverage based on an earlier plan approved by Republicans in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to compensate for his party’s lack of preparation by sequestering a small number of senators who worked quickly to develop their health care plan in secret. Last week they revealed that plan to the rest of the Senate and seemed surprised by the skepticism and frustrations expressed by their fellow Republicans. Senate Democrats also were skeptical and frustrated, but Republicans don’t consider their views important for the sake of passing this bill.

The good news is that enough Republican senators resisted a fake deadline McConnell set for a speedy vote, forcing him to delay it until after the Senate reconvenes in July. Now McConnell and the senators who expressed concerns will have more time to negotiate and determine whether they will vote for the bill.

What the delay should do is provide more time for Democratic and Republican leaders to come together to work on better solutions. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, wrote on these pages on Wednesday that he had offered to participate with Republicans to help solve some of the problems with Obamacare. His offer was not accepted. Other Democratic senators and representatives have said similar things.

Unlike the Democrats in 2010, Republicans have refused to hold committee hearings and have tried to severely limit debates and discussions about the merits of the plan.

Even if McConnell and the Republicans win the short-term battle and approve —without any Democratic support — a plan that President Donald Trump will sign, they will have “won” by shutting out many people who could have offered ideas for making the plan better.

That’s no way to fix the problems with health care. And it’s no way to treat Americans who need help now. For most Americans who aren’t members of Congress, health care isn’t a political fight. It’s a fight for affordable coverage, access to health providers and quality care.

They are not interested in settling scores, only in getting the problems fixed. Senate Republicans now have time to try to fix the problems, but only if they focus on the concerns of all Americans and not just the interests of their own base of supporters.