Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Replace How?

Uncommon Ground

Tea Partiers are stunned that the Affordable Care Act passed the U.S. Supreme Court’s test of constitutionality. “Well it looks like what was sold on a lie was found constitutional on that lie,” State Auditor candidate Derek Skees wrote in a website release after the court’s judgment.

During the 2011 Montana Legislature, Skees unsuccessfully sought to declare health insurance reform as “unconstitutional, null and void and unenforceable” and create a “Montana nullification committee” whose odd job it was to review all federal laws.

Lawmakers, though, have excellent health coverage. Legislators still receive $733-per-month in taxpayer-funded health insurance.

In a stinging rebuke, the ultra-conservative Montana Chamber of Commerce endorsed his Skees’ Democratic opponent, State Auditor Monica Lindeen, as the next insurance commissioner.

The Montana GOP says that Obamacare reforms should be repealed and replaced. Replace it how? Repeal the scorned mandate, but keep the refundable tax credits? Reform it into a populist single-payer system?

Who knows? The GOP has yet to lay out any public plans for health care reform.

Most Montanans already have health insurance, but do not like the mandate. A more populist view of the reforms will emerge as people use refundable tax credits to pay for expensive private insurance.

Republicans though, are not proposing to eliminate Romneycare or other mandates like automobile insurance. The GOP objection for mandated insurance applies to Obamacare.

President Barack Obama’s signature legislation – carried by Montana Sen. Max Baucus – can lower health care premiums by getting more of our fellow citizens insured. That is a huge success for our economy.

The uninsured still seek emergency care at hospitals, while existing policyholders pay thousands of dollars extra in “non-insured” premiums. That is hardly sustainable.

Obamacare has popular reforms like the below 80 percent coverage rebates, extended senior coverage, kids staying on parents’ plans, tax credits for employee insurance, or subsidies for real people to buy private insurance.

The GOP rhetoric of repeal it and then trust us to replace it has become bumper sticker politics.

Only a handful of Republicans in the 2007 and 2009 Montana Legislatures supported expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP uses Montana voter-approved tobacco taxes to provide health and dental coverage to low-income children.

The 2011 Legislature was marred by GOP attempts to block federal funding to women’s health care clinics.

Expect more political shenanigans in the 2013 Legislature as Montanans seek to use federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage to lower income people.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill recently said that a Republican-controlled Legislature would not likely approve any Medicaid expansion, nor would he likely support it. Expansion would provide health insurance coverage for 60,000-plus Montanans in communities like the Flathead.

Insurance bills are a sad fact of life. No amount of firebrand rhetoric – from politicians who receive taxpayer socialized health coverage – will stop people’s monthly premiums.

Obamacare mandates that insurance companies pay for immunizations and physicals, exams like mammograms or colonoscopies, and prescriptions like women’s contraception. It mandates personal coverage, and provides refundable tax credits to defray costs of private insurance. And it provides means-tested caps on premiums.

Given that the Montana GOP previously put onto the November ballot the newly constitutional question of mandated health insurance, families will be subjected to more political rhetoric and hyperbole.

Obamacare is far from perfect – it is, after all, a product of Congress. It is unpopular for going too far, and not far enough. It is the law of the land. It helps real people.

The GOP must now reform existing law. GOP candidates should clearly articulate health care policy replacements and how they better the lives of people.

Until then, independent-minded people will rightly move on to other issues facing our communities.