Diana DeGette: Bipartisan Push on Health Care is Within Reach
Congress can forge common ground on health care, from targeting high premiums in certain states to negotiating down drug prices, but only if President Trump and Republicans refuse to revive an Obamacare repeal plan that fell apart last week, a senior House Democrat said Wednesday.
Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, said if she could negotiate a landmark medical cures bill with Republicans in the middle of a bitter campaign last year, then compromise is still within reach despite longstanding partisanship around the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
She also said unnamed Republicans have approached her about forging a bipartisan way forward.
“After seven years of noisy party wrangling, I can confidently stand here today and say there is a path going forward to strengthen our health care system. There are reasonable, effective solutions that can secure bipartisan support and help us fulfill the duties that we as elected officials have to our constituents and to all Americans,” Ms. DeGette said at the National Press Club in downtown D.C.
Democrats have largely proposed ways to expand the federal footprint in health care — most notably, a government-run “public option” to compete with private plans in the market, but Republicans have ruled it out as “more Obamacare.”
Ms. DeGette said there is bipartisan appetite, however, for making health care pricing more transparent to empower consumers and for bolstering primary care in rural areas to save money down the road.
Efforts to turn broader principles into actual legislation come with a key condition for Democrats, who do not control the levers of government but feel emboldened by the GOP’s flailing efforts to scrap Obamacare.
“If they’re going to renew their efforts toward repeal, we’re not going to participate in that,” Ms. DeGette said.
Senate Democrats echoed those sentiments in a letter Wednesday to Mr. Trump urging him to bolster the Obamacare markets and rescind his executive order targeting the law, so that all sides can negotiate.
The 2010 health care law promised to reshape health care, vastly expanding Medicaid coverage for the poor in many states and setting up web-based insurance exchanges where people can shop for private coverage, often with the help of taxpayer-funded subsidies.
Yet the exchanges fell short of enrollment targets and didn’t attract enough young and healthy consumers to balance out sicker ones, who could no longer be denied by insurers.
Insurers raised their rates or fled the exchanges, opening the door to repeal under Mr. Trump and a GOP-led Congress.
But House Speaker Paul D. Ryan had to pull their first repeal attempt from the floor Friday, as dozens of Republicans and all Democrats opposed to the measure. Conservatives in the hardline House Freedom Caucus said the bill didn’t go far enough in cutting regulations and spending, while centrists said it imperiled coverage.
It’s unclear if the parties can bridge their rift over the federal role in health care. Republicans have resisted Democratic efforts to increase federal spending on premiums or out-of-pockets costs, though Ms. DeGette argued that some GOP centrists see dividends down the road.
“I’m not going to win that argument with the Freedom Caucus, but some of the other ones are realizing the advantage of investing money for prevention early on, so you don’t have those huge expenses [later on],” she said after the event.
House GOP leaders this week said they will revive the repeal effort, though Mr. Trump has signaled he wants to move on to tax reform and let Obamacare unravel, forcing Democrats back to the negotiating table.
If Mr. Trump allows the system to implode, “that’s not a very good olive branch,” Ms. DeGette said.
“Negotiation goes two different ways,” she said.
White House aides said Tuesday that staffers have had discussions about ideas for a new bill, but no strategy is in place.
Mr. Trump also told a bipartisan group of senators at the White House late Tuesday that his next effort to tackle Obamacare will be a cinch, because all sides “are all going to make a deal on health care.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, thanked House leadership for its first try but said the American people are stuck with Obamacare for the foreseeable future, so Congress is “gonna have to see how that works out.”
“There have been, at best, mixed signals coming from the White House and the congressional leadership,” Ms. DeGette said.