Good polls, confusing polls and politicizing math are the focus of our martinis on Wednesday. Jim and Greg are glad to see Republican U.S. Senate challenger John James already in a virtual dead heat with Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan. They also shake their heads as a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey shows a majority of Americans support Medicare for All but oppose it by large margins when they actually understand it means the end of private insurance. And they throw up their hands as school officials in Seattle consider adding an emphasis on ethnic studies into all subjects, including taking time in math class to explain how math is oppressive to people of color and is used to exploit natural resources.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is once again staying very close to President Obama, this time billing his health care plan as Obamacare 2.0 and even promising once again that Americans who like their private health coverage can keep it.
The Obama-Biden administration repeated that promise over and over as part of the debate over the Affordable Care Act. Due to the regulatory changes of the law, plans could not stay the same. Americans were forced into more comprehensive plans and some carriers dropped their customers altogether.
As a result, Politifact named “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” the Lie of the Year in 2013.
Biden is now positioning himself as a moderate in the Democratic field for 2020. He says a Medicare for All approach that would abolish private insurance and leave the government in complete control is a bridge too far. Instead he is pushing a public option – a government-run plan that would compete with private coverage.
“If you like your plan, your employer-based plan, you can keep it. If in fact, you have private insurance, you can keep it,” said Biden on Monday.
But what Biden labels a moderate approach Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner sees as a mere stepping stone to government-run health care that kills private sector health coverage.
“The federal government has unlimited calls on taxpayer dollars. It can write the rules that everybody has to comply with. Private plans will not be able to compete, so people will inevitably lose their private plans simply because they will go under,” said Turner.
Listen to the full podcast to hear Turner explain in greater detail how a public option would ultimately force private insurers out of business, what approach she believes is far better than a public option or Medicare for All, and how Americans are approaching this critical debate.
Daniel Foster of National Review Online and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud President Trump’s nomination of Bill Barr to be attorney general and also sound off on Trump’s choice of Heather Nauert for UN ambassador and rumors that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly may soon resign. They also fire back at liberals in New York pushing legislation requiring residents to have a million dollars in liability insurance before buying a gun – and that’s only part of the story. And they groan as comedian Kevin Hart is forced to give up hosting the Oscars because he refused to apologize yet again for tweets he made a decade ago.
Grassroots activists and state officials are making another push to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and a leading figure in the effort believes there is a 50-50 chance it can get passed before the midterm elections.
“Health reform is not dead,” said Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner, who has been working with other activists to revive the effort ever since the Senate failed to advance legislation last summer. They plan to hold a press conference outlining their reform principles this coming week.
“Next Wednesday afternoon, here in Washington, with a number of governors, state legislators and others,” she said.
Turner says this new approach builds upon a last-minute effort by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would move much of the authority to make health care policy out of Washington.
“It’s based upon the chassis of Graham-Cassidy with block grants to the states but with a lot of refinements that make this a much better bill,” said Turner. “We need to move resources and authority back to the states to heal their health insurance markets that have been broken by Obamacare.”
What would her preferred legislation actually look like?
“Basically we’re saying this money that’s currently going to insurance companies, dumping more and more money into Medicaid, these sort of open-ended entitlements. Let us turn those into a block grant and distribute that money among the different states and give them more flexibility in how they spend that money in order to provide better choices for health insurance and lower costs,” said Turner.
Turner says there would still be federal subsidies associated with the plan to help people afford private, commercially available health insurance. There would also be funds for patients facing chronic illness or major events like organ transplants.
She adds that the individual market was badly hurt by Obamacare, despite endless promises to the contrary.
“We actually have no more people covered in the individual market today than we did before Obamacare passed. We spent all this money. We have turned our health care system upside down and no [additional[ people have private health insurance.
“Yes, there are more people covered (overall), but the great majority of them are on Medicaid which, as we know, is a terrible program for people,” said Turner, noting Medicaid patients have a terrible time finding primary physicians who will see them and certain specialists are also almost impossible to get.”
She says legislation grounded in the ideas she is pushing would open many more doors for patients.
“People need the option of private coverage, quality coverage, that gives them not only access to coverage, but actually access to care,” said Turner.
But will activism among the grassroots and the state level get Congress to take up this issue so close to Election Day?
“We believe the Senate is going to take our recommendations seriously and hopefully we’ll be able to move this forward. We think there are a lot of forces that are going to bring them back to health reform this summer, even though they’d really like to do something else,” said Turner.
Turner is also buoyed by the news that the Senate will remain in session for most of August and is confident Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring the issue to the floor if he knows there are 50 votes to pass it. Republicans would once again need to approve the reconciliation process for the debate since there is no chance of getting 60 votes for the legislation.
We think it won’t be very hard to get it through the House. The Senate is really where the focus will be over the next several weeks,” said Turner.
“I’m pretty optimistic. I’d give it a 50-50 chance, which is a lot more than most people on Capitol Hill would give it,” she said.
Insurance companies are more frequently refusing to cover the cost of prescription drugs, even when their plans promise that they will. This leaves patients less healthy and pharmaceutical companies stripped of incentive to innovate. American Society for Preventive Cardiology President Dr. Seth Baum explains why this problem is getting a lot worse, why it could stifle the advancement of new medicines and how individual patients can be a vital part of the solution.
The Virginia congressman who defeated his own party’s House Majority leader three years ago is hailing President Trump’s speech as a “total conservative tour de force” but says Republicans must resist the temptation to embrace Obamacare-lite and truly embrace repeal and reform.
Trump’s speech Tuesday night to a Joint Session of Congress highlighted a number of conservative priorities. It received acclaim for both style and substance. Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., was thoroughly impressed.
“He hit it out of the park. It was just a total conservative tour de force across all the issues and it was all upbeat. It just gave everybody hope,” said Brat. “When MSNBC can’t say anything negative, you know you had a good speech.”
Brat hailed Trump for pushing tax cuts as part of overall tax reform and for lifting the regulatory burden from families and businesses. While politicians and pundits alike suspect tax reform cannot happen this year, Brat says Trump has a way of motivating people that the so-called experts may not understand.
“This city has a way of delaying and letting the special interests take over. Trump is the one guy who can light a fire and make sure that does not happen,” said Brat.
One of Trump’s most forceful demands was for Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But how that can be done is becoming increasingly contentious inside the GOP.
Last week, a leaked memo of a Republican replacement plan set off fierce debate as the more conservative members of the House and Senate balked at replacing health care subsidies with refundable tax credits.
Brat also revealed that the debate over tax credits is playing out only in the wake of the leaked memo because GOP lawmakers haven’t assembled to work through a replacement bill.
“We’ve never even had a show of hands for , ‘Hey, which way do you want to go on this? That’s part of the problem with this town. Our conference needs to be more transparent and represent the will of the people,” said Brat.
“We all ran to represent the will of the people. We all ran for six years on repeal of Obamacare. So when you say repeal of Obamacare, I think the average person means repeal of Obamacare, right? If we end up putting Obamacare-lite in its place, our base is going to be furious. The average small businessperson is going to be furious,” said Brat.
Brat reminds citizens and lawmakers how we got into the current predicament with respect to Obamacare.
“The insurance guys walked into the White House eight years ago looking at their shoes. They were going to get 18 million new customers, but they knew they were setting up a non-free market death spiral system,” said Brat.
He says Republicans can’t leave the American people effectively headed down the very same road.
“Having taught economics for 20 years, you’ve got to get the system right. That’s what some of us are very worried about, that’s we’re going to do an Obamacare-lite. Then our team is going to own that product. That will be a disaster,” said Brat.
“We’ll just do the same thing and call it (something) different, but you keep the insurance regulations. You keep the implicit mandates. The tax credits will turn into a new entitlement. And then we’re also getting rid of the health care deductions in the piece that was leaked on Politico,” said Brat.
Pointing out that entitlement spending is set to engulf the entire federal budget within a decade, Brat says responsible lawmakers cannot create another entitlement through the tax credits.
“We do not want to provide another federally-run entitlement program. The others are all insolvent, right, Medicare, Social Security. Everything the feds touch is insolvent,” said Brat, who points out Trump will need to fend off the growth of mandatory spending, either through entitlement reform or pushing tax reform that spawns major economic growth and tax revenues.
Brat says the most obvious priority in replacing Obamacare needs to be lowering the costs.
“Everybody’s paying attention to who’s covered and whether everybody’s covered, but we’re ignoring the cost of 300 million Americans,” said Brat. “If you can half the cost, then the money we’re spending goes twice as far just on simple math.”
In the meantime, Brat urges the public to see through the slanted media coverage on repeal and replace. The congressman points out bronze plan deductibles are now averaging $12,000 per year while premiums increase roughly 20-25 percent per year.
“Then the press calls and they say, ‘Hey, can you assure us that every single person is going to be just as well off or have gold-plated health care?’ I’m like, ‘You’re missing the thesis. Obamacare is in a death spiral, according to the heads of Humana and Aetna,'” said Brat.
“The entire system is collapsing under it’s own weight. About five million people lost their plans due to Obamacare. Where’s the reporting on there? The reporting is just in the realm of fake news at times and they’re acting like the Republicans are in charge of the disaster that just happened over the past eight years,” said Brat.
Despite his frustrations with the media and a lack of communication within GOP ranks, Brat is still optimistic repeal and replace will happen and that it will be done right.
“The car’s in the ditch. Now we’ve got to pull it out, get some free market principles going and I think we have plenty of time to get it right,” said Brat.
Health care expert Grace-Marie Turner says Bill Clinton’s public criticism of Obamacare and obvious infighting within Obama’s own administration proves the U.S. health care system is in big trouble on its current course.
The former president made headlines Monday, when he discussed the big problems created by President Obama’s signature domestic legislation.
“The people that are getting killed on this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies. Why? Because they’re not organized. They don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies. They’re getting whacked,” said Clinton.
“So you’ve got this crazy system where suddenly 25 million more people have health care and the people busting it sometimes 60 hours a week wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world,” said Clinton.
Turner, who actively fought Clinton’s health care reform in the 1990s and the push for Obamacare says, Clinton is on the right track – but only to a point.
“He’s got the diagnosis right. People are very unhappy with this law. The longer it’s in place, the more unhappy they are. He’s clearly hearing from small businesses. He’s hearing from families who cannot afford their premiums,” said Turner.
However, Turner suspects Clinton’s solution to the problem will only create more problems.
“What he’s doing I fear is teeing up, if Hillary is elected president, even more government control over the health sector. The American people know the problem is too much government control over health care,” said Turner.
She also says his characterization of what those millions of new people with health care coverage are receiving is badly misleading.
“He’s saying people have health care. No, they have health insurance. Ask people how hard it is to find a doctor to see them. People on Medicaid still have to go to hospital emergency rooms, particularly if they need specialty care,” said Turner.
Turner says the reasons for Obamacare’s failures are obvious.
“The health insurance companies are absolutely in straitjackets. The American people are being told the kind of health insurance they must buy, soup to nuts and absolutely everything anybody could think of, instead of actually having a policy that may work for them and their families that they may be able to afford. That’s not a choice they have right now,” said said Turner.
She fears a Hillary Clinton presidency would look to add a public option or some other way to increase government control of the health care system. Bill Clinton hinted similarly by suggesting those not qualifying for subsidies should be able to buy in to Medicare or Medicaid at a cost that’s comfortable for them, even if they don’t qualify for them.
Turner says that’s a recipe for disaster. She says the average senior citizen couple pays about $160,000 into the Medicare system but ends up needing more than $400,000 in care. She says the math of stuffing more people into that system should be clear to everyone.
“The system is not sustainable. It will go broke. It will go broke even faster if you put more people on it,” said Turner.
The Obama administration is also reportedly split on what do about insurance companies dropping out of the exchanges and demanding reimbursement in the billions of dollars. Some in the administration are apparently trying to work around existing law that forbids insurance company bailouts to keep the system alive.
At the same, the Justice Department is also fighting back against court challenges from insurance companies to pay them overdue subsidies.
Turner says this contradiction shows a fierce debate playing out within the administration.
“You have a big disagreement between the political people who want to do everything they can to rescue Obamacare and the civil servants who understand that these payments are illegal. Congress has passed very specific legislation forbidding any more corporate welfare,” said Turner.
Turner says this public infighting, plus the Clinton comments prove this administration understands the perilous state of our health care system.
“They know it’s in trouble. We have been talking since the beginning, since before this law passed, about the problems with this law. It was totally predictable that this was going to happen. Finally the supporters are saying it has problems. I think it is a whole other level when former President Bill Clinton basically says the law is a mess and a crazy scheme,” said Turner.
She says it will be difficult to fix the law because the Democrats are only interested in spending more money in a bad direction and Republicans want nothing to do with that. Turner says real negotiation will have to take place since Republicans will have to be part of the discussions, unlike 2010 when the law passed with support only from Democrats.
But Turner isn’t interested in tinkering with what she sees as a failure. She wants to return to healthy competition in the health care sector.
“Give consumers choices. They’re happy with the product. They’re engaged in helping to make sure that they spend their health care dollars wisely. And they see the savings when they make smart decisions,” said Turner.
“That’s what we need more of, not more government spending and government control, thinking that somehow we’re going to be able to spend enoughto that everybody can have all the health care they want all the time without any strings attached. That’s not possible,” said Turner.