Editorials

Editorial: Congress shouldn’t give up on health care

An oversize effigy of a health care professional is seen as hundreds of people march through downtown Los Angeles protesting President Donald Trump’s plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, his predecessor’s signature health care law, Thursday, March 23, 2017.
An oversize effigy of a health care professional is seen as hundreds of people march through downtown Los Angeles protesting President Donald Trump’s plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, his predecessor’s signature health care law, Thursday, March 23, 2017. AP

Congress, is that all you’ve got?

Just 17 days spent on one of the most critical issues facing tens of millions of Americans. Only 17 days?

That’s how long the right honorables spent debating and amending and fussing over national health care reform. Just two weeks and change.

Time for a little history: Congress spent 187 legislative days on the Affordable Care Act. Expanding prescription drug coverage under President George W. Bush? That was 166 days. Welfare reform under President Bill Clinton ate up 56 days. The 1986 tax reform bill spanned 323.

Now, President Donald Trump, who’s never been accused of having too much patience, is signaling that he and GOP leaders may take another run at health care after last week’s colossal defeat of their first attempt at reform.

That’s exactly the right way to go and, hey, maybe this time they can even do it right. Democrats screwed up in 2010 by signing off on reform without a single Republican vote (yes, GOP support may never have materialized, no matter what President Barack Obama tried). Republicans repeated the error by running with a measure no Democrat supported.

Maybe now lawmakers can quit the game-playing and try it together.

What happened last week was the result of years of over-the-top acrimony between the two parties. But this is a real-life issue that affects actual people, and it deserves a lot more than 17 days.

There’s no better time for Congress to prove that it can still do the tough stuff. Members should lay down their swords and figure this out. Watching the slow-motion death of the Affordable Care Act may be the choice of politicians seeking an electoral advantage in 2018. But it’s no way to govern the world’s leading democracy when so many other countries have health care systems that work.

And Democrats, it’s time to come to the table. You’ve played rope-a-dope on health care since the election — and justifiably so as Republicans crowed that they’d solve this thing lickety-split. But now, it’s time to get in a room and hash out the seemingly intractable.

Compromise might be found through Medicaid expansion or a broader use of Medicare. Tort reform could be a promising avenue and so could legalizing interstate purchasing of health care plans. Deregulation of the insurance exchanges could be considered. So could expanding the ACA by making everyone — even workers who get insurance through their jobs — sign up for coverage through an exchange. That would make those exchanges, one commentator pointed out, crackling hotbeds of free-market activity.

Almost any future reform would require Democratic support. You wonder if they’re up to it. You also wonder if the ruling Republicans will have them. There’s probably no other path forward.

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