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INSIDE POLITICS
Inside Politics: Death without the panels

For several years, including a few after it became obvious they were lies, Republican politicians, right wing pundits, and freaky-fringe bloggers wallpapered the entire info-verse with multiple layers of claims that Obamacare was a left-wing euthanasia conspiracy. It would put control of America’s health care system in the hands of death panels. A timer on grandma’s I.V. drip, calibrated in nickels, dimes and quarters would cut off life-sustaining fluids when the miserly government-certified treatment budget meter hit “empty.”

Hyperbole? Only slightly. Go back and review the right-leaning media’s transcripts and statements from some of the screechiest of the wolf-crying Republican politicians.

As it became apparent that the ACA was actually fairly popular (and effective), especially in states, where the plan was even-handedly promoted and risk pools were relatively balanced, Republicans turned to a different scare tactic. Convince Republican governors and legislatures to decline to accept federal Medicaid expansion funds on the grounds that, down the road, there wouldn’t be sufficient federal dollars to continue funding expansion. Do whatever feasible to discourage insurers from opting into the program in Republican states. Then loudly and regularly warn citizens of inevitable collapse of the system, and claim there was no way to tweak its glitches.

Nope, no fixing. Shoot the abomination; put it out of its misery. Let the GOP’s superior business acumen and entrepreneurial talent reinvent health care from scratch.

As the interminable year-and-a-half presidential campaign ground along, all 900 Republican presidential wannabes (Oops, my wife says only 20 or 30. Sorry, it seemed like a lot more) anyway, they all assured the public that if a Republican was elected they’d float icebergs in front of that Titanic, by Jove. Not enough life rafts on that sinking hulk. Best not get aboard if you know what’s good for you.

So, surprise, surprise, as election time neared and House Republicans passed their 900th ACA repeal bill (Oops, my wife says only 50 or so. Sorry, it seemed like a lot more … maybe that’s why they passed so little useful legislation all those years … I digress), some folks became hesitant to re-up. Risk pools became unbalanced, rates began rising, and some providers withdrew from some states, further reducing competition. Almost sounds like the GOP cunningly engineered the problems, doesn’t it?

Interestingly, despite their outspoken intent over six years to build a better health care system, Republicans didn’t spend a New York minute actually doing the work needed to craft new legislation. Their determination to nuke Obamacare and hold a Rose Garden photo-op was as far as their vision went. When the joysticks of government finally fell into their laps they apparently gathered in the paper napkin section of the DC Costco with boxes of crayons to write their new health care plan.

When squabbling and frustration set in, someone in their caucus apparently suggested: Hey, all we really gotta do is insert a few insurancey- and hospitally-sounding thingies as window dressing on a leave-no-millionaire behind bill. If Republicans know how to do anything, it’s writing tax cuts for the rich and connected.

It’s harder to couch the rest of the story in sarcasm and what, at least for me, felt like humor.

Republicans rushed to accomplish essentially anything (anything) legislatively that would distract the public from investigations of the administration’s Russian entanglements; inept cabinet vetting, choices, resignations and nominee withdrawals; court defeats; wars on free speech, the press, science, public education, the EPA , poverty programs and the environment; homogenizing of church and state; and the House’s first health don’t-care bill. Ultimately Speaker Ryan’s team hobbled together AHCA 2.0. Sadly (despicably?) it is, by all reckoning, merely an uglier version of the first health don’t-care bill with a bit more stage makeup and glitzier lighting.

Idaho stands to suffer dreadfully if anything close to this legislation is signed into law. It’s not just me saying so. Doctors say so. Public health agencies say so. Insurance analysts say so. Read for yourself at NPR (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/09/527627331/fact-checking-republicans-defense-of-the-gop-health-bill) and The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/03/ahca-economics/519498/).

Because of the state waiver wild card in the proposed AHCA, pre-existing condition protections have been reduced to little more than negotiating points. It also remains to be seen if pharmaceutical coverages for certain afflictions will remain or many other essential elements of the ACA. It is expected that when the CBO finally scores the new bill it is unlikely to be more palatable than the first version and could easily be a worse deal for citizens directly and indirectly (via impacts on the federal budget).

In one estimate Medicaid coverage of 70 million citizens will be drastically slashed. Fourteen million Americans are projected to lose health insurance in the first year, and another 10 million over the next 10 years. Idahoans will see 135,000 lose insurance by 2027, and many of Idaho’s essential preventative health benefits will be eliminated or drastically reduced.

The GOP House intends to put America’s health care in a way-back machine at maximum thrust.

Reps. Labrador and Simpson, rather than protecting Idahoans, opted to go along to get along. Why not? Their Cadillac congressional health care coverage won’t be affected.

Yes, Rep. Labrador, your callous vote will kill people. Loss of preventative care and adequate coverage of a wide spectrum of potentially fatal afflictions will kill Idahoans. Loss of insurance will kill Idahoans. Medical bills will also bankrupt Idahoans, and the stress of unnecessarily neglected afflictions and financial burdens will lead many Idahoans to commit suicide.

Welcome back to the bad old days.


Columns
OTHER VIEW
Other View: How to clean up the Comey mess

This appeared in Wednesday’s Washington Post:

It’s fair to doubt that President Donald Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation—a performance the president had previously praised. But whatever his motive, Trump has removed an independent official overseeing inquiries into Russia’s intervention in last year’s election, from which the president benefited, and Moscow’s possible collaboration with elements of Trump’s campaign. The firing has undermined the credibility of a vital national security investigation. The priority for Congress and the Justice Department must be to restore independence and credibility to that probe as quickly as possible.

First the country must have a full accounting of Comey’s dismissal — before Congress confirms a new FBI director. Did, as some reports suggest, Trump trigger a search for a pretext to dismiss the director because of his anger over Comey’s statements about the Russia case? Did Rod Rosenstein, the heretofore reputable deputy attorney general, knowingly or unwittingly cooperate with such a charade? Before any nominee is confirmed, the White House must forswear any interferemce in the FBI investigation and promise to provide it with all needed resources. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Comey asked for more resources for the Russia investigation in the days leading up to his termination, suggesting the inquiry was far from over. A Justice Department spokesperson denied the report. Even so, Congress must ensure that the FBI gets the resources it requires.

But no White House pledge can repair the damage of Comey’s firing, nor satisfy the preexisting need for a full understanding of the foreign attack the U.S. democratic system endured last year. Any Trump FBI nominee would be tainted by association with the president, and the episode has also raised questions about the independence of the Justice Department’s highest officials. These considerations have led Democrats to demand a special prosecutor to oversee the Russia investigation, chosen by a career Justice Department official, rather than Rosenstein or any other political appointee. That, along with the nomination of a qualified and politically independent new FBI director, would help reestablish credibility.

Much of the burden for cleaning up this mess falls on Congress. Reactions from Republican lawmakers to the Comey news ranged from appropriate alarm and concern to unsettling acceptance. The current House and Senate investigations of Russia have produced some valuable testimony, but many lawmakers have proved themselves incapable of separating politics from the important work their committees are supposed to be conducting. It’s now obvious that Congress should empanel an independent commission to fully investigate Moscow’s hacking attacks and any Russian links to Trump and his campaign. The goal should be not merely to determine if anyone should be charged with a crime, but to develop a complete picture of Russian capabilities and intentions, as well as recommendations for mounting a defense of U.S. democracy.


Mailbag
Letter: Disappointed in Idaho's reps

Disappointed in Idaho’s reps

No surprise that Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador voted for the health care bill. Also no real drama that they didn’t wait for a CBO score to determine costs and repercussions on coverage. I used to have some respect for Mr. Simpson but that has vanished. As for Mr. Labrador, his recent comments about no one ever dying from lack of health care shows his ignorance. Finally I recently read that Johns Hopkins was doing wonders in the area of spinal restoration and was looking for some new candidates, mmmm ?

Kevin Dane

Twin Falls