Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Most of this space has been dedicated to issues at the state level for the past two weeks. That is, after all, our primary focus here. The final weeks of the legislature are when most of the items of significance pass – or don’t pass – through the General Assembly. Georgia commentary thus trumps national items.
As the legislative session was reaching its crescendo, the Supreme Court was arguing the landmark case of our day. We should know in a few months if President Obama’s health care reforms are considered constitutional, and likely receive a ruling on whether or not the federal government can require its citizens to engage in commerce with private entities.
Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens was provided a front row seat to the proceedings as Georgia is a party to the suit challenging the law. We’ll likely get his take here in the weeks ahead.
Georgia also has three medical doctors within the Republican Congressional delegation who have adopted the mantra of “Repeal and Replace”. It’s clear that Congressmen Broun, Gingrey, and Price want the law repealed, but how it will be replaced has been much less specific.
Congressman Gingrey reached out to me and the other contributors at PeachPundit.com to create a dialogue on the topic. He was kind enough to give us just under an hour just after getting off of a plane from Washington last week after observing some of the oral arguments. It was a rather enlightening conversation.
The tone was set very early in the discussion when Congressman Gingrey admitted that Republicans did little to fix a broken health care system when they were in charge. “Shame on us” he said, beginning with a frank candor that transcended partisan talking points.
The honesty in that opening was refreshing, and hopefully indicates a recognition that defeating “Obamacare” alone cannot be the goal. Republicans must provide solutions if they are to keep the middle class, and specifically small business owners, on their side with this issue.
He spoke directly about the need to quickly replace the current law with one that includes protections for those with pre-existing conditions. He sees each state running an effective high risk pool as part of a solution for those with pre-existing conditions who are excluded by most insurers.
With some of the more popular portions of the health care reform law such as the elimination of pre-existing conditions, Gingrey says there is wide support, and Congress could pass a bill limited to these items in broad bi-partisan fashion within weeks if current law is struck down by the court. What is not needed, according to him, is another 2700+ page omnibus bill.
Instead, the easier items will be replaced first. But the Republican solution will be a series of proposals, each standing on its own merits. Some will be easier to pass and will pass quickly. Others will take time to build a consensus. Health Savings Accounts, ability to buy insurance across state lines, and employer and/or employee tax credits will be offered as part of the mix.
He also offered a word of caution on Medicare, even under the status quo, noting that the budget Republicans just passed doesn’t wait for a Supreme Court decision to address a problem staring the country and it’s retirees in the face right now. The Medicare Trust Fund is projected to become insolvent between 2016 and 2024 if no changes are made. The Republican’s Paul Ryan budget begins to address the problem by moving some seniors to private plans with premium support and gradually increases the eligibility age of Medicare to age 67.
Gingrey noted that Republicans have put themselves on record and at risk of attack from Democrats by starting to do what is needed to save a program on the edge of insolvency. He also noted that Democrats are nowhere to be found on the issue.
There are no easy solutions to fix a $2.5 trillion industry that composes roughly one sixth of our nation’s GDP. It is nice to see Congressman Gingrey coming to the table with contrition for what was not done between 1995 and 2006, as well as with ideas for what will replace current law should it be struck down. Given current opinions of what is expected from the Supreme Court’s verdict, this discussion will likely move from the hypothetical to reality in just a few months.