Opinion

Republican health care fumbles give Democrats a chance to be bold

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For much of the 2018 campaign, Democrats ran hard on the issue of health care, determined to hold Republicans accountable for their efforts to take coverage away from millions of Americans.
Republicans, reading the tea leaves and the polls, had a death-bed conversion, particularly when it comes to protecting people with pre-existing conditions and ensuring that they are still able to get health care coverage.

After years of doing everything possible to destroy the Affordable Care Act, with literally dozens of votes to repeal it and it’s protections, Republicans tried with a straight face to say that they, too, cared about protecting people who are sick or have been hurt.

Voters weren’t buying it.

US Rep. Bruce Poliquin lost his re-election – dropping from 55 percent support in 2016 – in part due to his votes to take health care away from millions of people and more than 100,000 Mainers by repealing the ACA. And Republicans lost their majority in the US House of Representatives in one of the more lopsided defeats in history.

Even so, the Republicans’ health care chickens are coming home to roost with an outlandish ruling out of Texas last week that declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

Smarter people than me, including US Sen. Susan Collins, say that the ruling will be overturned. And in the short term, nothing changes with the ACA, which remains the law of the land.

But here’s what the GOP wrought with its lawsuit and the provision of the tax scam last year that removed the mandate for coverage from the law, which were the grounds for the judge’s ruling.

If it stands, Medicaid expansion, which covers more than 15 million people – and more than 70,000 in Maine once Gov.-elect Janet Mills expands coverage after her inauguration in January – would lose coverage. Gone.

Protection for people with pre-existing conditions. Gone.

Guaranteed coverage of preventative health care. Gone.

Coverage for essential health benefits. Gone.

Protections against lifetime limits. Gone.

Tax credits, which help millions afford insurance. Gone.

In other words, Republicans – including outgoing Maine Gov. Paul LePage who joined the lawsuit in her personal capacity – have brought the health care system to the edge of a massive, disastrous and deeply unpopular cliff.

And what’s standing in the way? A conservative, Republican-dominated court of appeals or a conservative, Republican-dominated US Supreme Court.

Republicans own the outcome. No two ways about it. Now, they’re saying this is a chance to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better. But voters see through that scam. Republicans don’t have any ideas about how to improve access to health care or to reduce costs. Period.

With near monolithic devotion, Republicans have worked to dismantle one of the most effective health care reforms in terms of increasing the number of people with coverage since the creation of Medicaid and Medicare.

Into this disarray, Maine has an opportunity to once again become a national health care leader. Mills has demonstrated her commitment to expanding access to health care and with her very first cabinet nomination, she showed that she’s looking for innovation, big ideas and a leader with the firepower to stand up to the Trump administration and their health care rollbacks.

Mills nominated Jeanne Lambrew for commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. Lambrew is well-known in health care policy circles and spent more than seven years in the White House under President Barack Obama. She served as director of the Office of Health Reform at the US Department of Health and Human Services and as the president’s deputy assistant for health policy.

Republicans are in retreat on health care and looking a disaster in the face. Democrats, including Mills, have a chance to be firm, to be bold and to make a real difference in people’s lives.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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