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Obamacare & McCain’s health battle

Earl O. Hutchinson

Arizona Senator John McCain will get and deserves the best medical care he can get in his battle against brain cancer. Millions rightly will be pulling for his healthful recovery. But McCain’s health battle also casts an ugly glare on the hypocrisy and contradiction in the GOP’s relentless war against Obamacare. It starts with McCain. In August 2016, he was in a mildly tough fight for re-election to his sixth Senate term. The issue that McCain went after was health care — specifically, Obamacare. He bluntly told a Fox Business interviewer that Obamacare was “collapsing like a house of cards.”

This was not simply another case of a GOP senator taking a straight, hardline stance against the Affordable Care Act. McCain made it plain before he lashed out at Obamacare on Fox that health care should be mostly left to the free market. He ticked off a checklist of ways health care should function. It included such things as risk pools, greater interstate insurance availability and letting people opt out health care completely. McCain said that we must go back to “square one” with health care and take a “capitalistic approach to it.” He voted each time against various measures to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

Editor’s note

This column was written prior to the announcement that Sen. McCain would return to the Senate on Tuesday to vote in support of health care reform and work on other legislative priorities.

McCain has been as good as his word and belief about what health care should be and the limited role government should play. Between 1996 and 2007, he voted against every federal measure to either expand or strengthen health care coverage. That list includes funding for the State Children Health Insurance Program by increasing the tobacco tax, increases for AIDS prevention drug assistance, tax credits for long term and chronic health care needs, credits to small business owners for employee health insurance coverage and the extension of health care coverage to mental illness.

In every case when a proposal was made to increase funding or expand a vital health care program, McCain could be counted on to oppose it. In contrast, the government will pay the bulk of the costs of McCain’s care. He also is eligible to receive limited medical services from the Office of the Attending Physician of the U.S. Capitol. And, since he is a military veteran, he can be treated free of charge at Washington, D.C. area hospitals, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center. Again, all costs for his care will be paid by the government.

McCain’s proposals to replace Obamacare are simply another variation of what the GOP has plopped on the table. They are just as dreadful.

They include scaled down subsidies, tax credits, the expansion of high risk pools, health savings accounts, a provision that gives insurers the right to peddle insurance in any state they choose and creation of Association Health Plans to small businesses and risk pools. The subsidies would scrap the income-based measure that Obamacare imposes and replace it with age as the governing metric. That subsidy for the poorest and neediest was the linchpin of Obamacare. It made it possible for millions who couldn’t afford insurance at any price to purchase it for the first time. To get the tax credits a low-wage worker would still have to come up with the cash to purchase insurance. That would be problematic for many.

The high-risk pools that McCain touts supposedly would move thousands of medically-indigent people into pools to ensure low-cost access to coverage. But it would do just the opposite. The bulk of those in the pool would be the sickest and most in need of continuous medical treatment. They would pay more, not less, for that coverage.

Under the plan that McCain and other GOP senators have proposed, a staggering 23 million Americans would have been plucked from the health care rolls in the next decade. That’s according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office on the impact that ending Obamacare would have on the nation. Millions, of course, either had no insurance or went without coverage for a period during the course of a year or more before Obamacare kicked in. Many others who got coverage also lost that coverage, almost always because they couldn’t pay for it — or the insurer dropped them because of a medical condition that the insurer considered too costly to underwrite. The state of American health care was worse than abysmal for millions.

McCain’s claim that Obamacare is collapsing and that the private market will take care of all health needs has no basis in fact. The high quality of care he’ll get in his fight against cancer almost entirely at government expense proves that. McCain is the best argument that all should receive the same quality of care.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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