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A Times Editorial

Make health reform better; don't kill it

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner calls health care reform a "monstrosity" and says repealing it is a top priority for Republicans. He is misreading the exit polls. Americans are split over health reform as a whole, but large majorities are very supportive of specific provisions. The public would not appreciate losing benefits already in place such as the elimination of lifetime caps on claims, a ban on denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions and the ability to keep children on parents' policies until age 26. President Barack Obama needs to drive that point home as he negotiates with congressional Republicans on how to move the country forward.

Republicans' misleading and false campaign attacks have sowed public confusion and made it harder to reach consensus on improving health care reform. They denounced it as an unaffordable government takeover of health care when in fact the cost-cutting and best-practices aspects are projected to save billions of dollars. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the act will save the federal treasury $143 billion over 10 years even as it expands health care coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Health insurance will still be a private enterprise. Except for an expansion of Medicaid, most Americans will be enrolled in a private health plan, either remaining on an employer plan or choosing one in an exchange where consumers will benefit from insurers competing for their business.

The reform's most unpopular feature is the mandate requiring every person to have insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty. But without this mandate, healthy people acting in their own self-interest will wait until they are sick to purchase insurance, driving up its cost. Everyone — sick and healthy — must be part of an insurance pool to keep rates at reasonable levels and make other reforms possible.

Republicans refuse to deal with this reality. They claim they will keep the popular reforms and repeal the rest. Sen.-elect Marco Rubio of Florida has said he would preserve the "pre-existing condition clause" and the provision allowing children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' policy. "Beyond that," Rubio said, "the bill should be scrapped."

Obama would be certain to veto any total repeal, and congressional Republicans do not have the votes to override a veto. So they may try to strip funding for the law's implementation or hold hearings to interfere with the administration's efforts to move forward. Voters should see that kind of sabotage for what it is: an attempt to win political points on the backs of Americans who need health care.

The court challenges around the country, launched by mostly Republican attorneys general, including Bill McCollum in Florida, are moving along. The results so far are mixed. A federal judge in Michigan has ruled that the individual mandate is within the federal government's Commerce Clause powers to impose, while judges in Virginia and Florida are allowing constitutional challenges to proceed. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola made it clear that he is inclined to view the federal government as having overstepped its authority. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide. If the court follows precedent, health reform will be allowed to stand.

Health care reform is about America's security. It will put the country on a firmer financial footing as it gives working families dependable health coverage at a more affordable price. It's not perfect, and there is plenty of room to improve it. Republicans should be focused on making health care reform better, rather than trying to kill it.

Make health reform better; don't kill it 11/14/10 [Last modified: Sunday, November 14, 2010 4:16pm]
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