Kennedy: Time for Congress to get the job done on health care

It seems that the Republicans vs. Obamacare situation has reached the boiling point. Last Tuesday afternoon the Senate passed the resolution to force the matter to open debate. It must be noted that two Republicans voted against the resolution which forced Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote to break the tie. Which way he voted was not a surprise.

What has happened since is a convoluted mess. A vote on a “repeal and replace at a later date” bill, which was doomed from the start, failed miserably on Wednesday. Then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the “Skinny Repeal” bill up for a vote. This exercise was doomed as well since no Democrat and many Republican senators were against it for a variety of reasons. The Senate leadership was trying to get House Speaker Paul Ryan to promise that the House would not agree with this bill and defeat it there. This way the Senate could have passed it, albeit by the skin of its teeth, and claimed a victory for repeal. Thankfully for all of us, Sen. John McCain and other Republicans came to their senses and defeated the “Skinny Repeal” as I was composing this piece.

Fiscal experts have reported that two of the three areas covered by this proposal would have had negligible effect on the cost of health care or the numbers of folks covered. These dealt with the tax on medical equipment and the mandate that companies with more than 50 employees provide insurance coverage for those employees. The success or failure of a repeal of these parts of the Affordable Care Act is purely for show since the tax dollars in question are minimal and more than 95 percent of affected businesses already provide health care for their employees.

The third portion however, the part that dealt with the requirement of individuals to purchase health care insurance would have had a large negative impact. The experts forecast that more than 15 million people would drop their health care if this bill was enacted. Those would be the young and still healthy, which would drive up the premium costs to untenable levels for those older and/or with some health problems.

Whatever comes next is anyone’s guess. Maybe some of the older and wiser senior Republican senators can convince their leadership to remand the question to the appropriate bipartisan committee while the House does the same. One thing is probable, that if the Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives aren’t included in the formation of whatever the bill is, it won’t get support from them and possibly will not even carry enough Republican votes to pass.

It is generally accepted that the ACA, which was admittedly pushed through Congress by a Democratic majority, has some serious flaws. These need to be addressed and appropriate changes made to insure that the American public has access to affordable health care in both the short and long term. One requirement that I would hope will be included in whatever comes to pass is that federal government employees, from the president to the lowest person on the totem pole be included along with the rest of us.

Maybe sometime in the future, when there is less rancor and “my way or no way” thinking, Congress will go to a system based on the Medicare/Medicaid model where each person is enrolled at birth and then covered for basic health care and catastrophic care for life. As with Medicare, supplemental coverage could be provided by commercial insurers to cover costs over and above those provided by the system.

The ball is now in the Congress’ court and the nation is eagerly awaiting some cooperation between the parties which will lead to a positive outcome. This has to happen rather quickly or the ACA will collapse from the uncertainty about what comes next. Congress, and by extension the White House, have done more harm to this point than was anticipated due to their lack of foresight and positive action. Get the job done!

Bill Kennedy writes every other Monday from Taneytown. Email him at


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