The Future of Health Reform May Turn on Senate Races

Below, the introduction to a post that I published earlier today on Healthinsurance.org

While all eyes focus on the presidential race, the ultimate fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could depend on the Senate contests in the states.

Even if Mitt Romney were elected, he alone could not overturn major provisions of healthcare reform. Only Congress can pass the legislation needed to change the ACA.

Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House, but if Democrats hold the Senate, they will be able to block House bills aimed at eviscerating “Obamacare.”

Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House, but if Democrats hold the Senate, they will be able to block House bills aimed at eviscerating “Obamacare.”

What is At Stake

If Republicans take the Senate, the two chambers could pass legislation that would:

  • eliminate the premium subsidies designed to make health insurance affordable for middle-income and low-income families
  • bring an end to Medicaid expansion, and
  • rescind the individual mandate that everyone buy insurance or pay a tax.

Under “budget reconciliation,” Republicans would need only a simple majority to pass such legislation. In the Senate, 51 votes would do it. Today, Republicans hold 47 seats.

Razor-sharp margins in many states make it impossible to predict outcomes. Polls only give us a blurry snapshot of one moment in time – and in states like Arizona, candidates have been trading leads from week to week.

Much will depend on the demographics of who turns out to vote.

What Could Happen: Three Scenarios . . .

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A Centrist Perspective: Makers and Takers, Obamacare, and the Path Forward

Below, a guest post from Stephen Reid, Managing Partner at Pharmspective, a market research firm that provides advisory services to healthcare and pharmaceutical companies on strategic issues including the Affordable Care Act. (ACA)

I don’t  agree with Reid on every point. (For example, if Republicans take both the White House and the Senate, I believe that they could and would eliminate both the premium subsidies that will make insurance affordable for middle-class Americans and the mandate.) Nevertheless, when he sent his Op-ed to me I was impressed by how well he understands the legislation. A great many moderates have been confused by the arguments coming at them both from the left and from the right.  A combination of misinformation, half-truths and fear-mongering has created so much “noise” that it has become extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction.

By contrast, Reid does a very good  job of explaining the reasoning behind the Affordable Care Act, and how its “checks and balances” work. I agree with him that the legislation is far from perfect, but it represents a good beginning.

 There is just one major aspect of reform that I think Reid doesn’t understand: the rationale for expanding Medicaid. See my note at the end of his post.

                   A Centrist Perspective: Makers, Takers and Obamacare

by Stephen Reid

With a few days left before we elect a president, the prevailing belief is that an Obama win would propel the Affordable Care Act (ACA) forward with little delay and a Romney win would kill it. Both parties have gone to great lengths to characterize healthcare reform; the Democrats tout the legislation as essential to addressing a broken healthcare system that results in the U.S. spending twice as much as most developed countries on healthcare while leaving 50 million people without coverage; the Republicans cite the ACA as an example of hopeless dependency on government and contrary to free-market principles and individual rights.

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Could President Romney repeal Obamacare? No.

 Mitt Romney’s web site makes a bold promise: “On his first day in office, Mitt Romney will issue an executive order that paves the way for the federal government to issue Obamacare waivers to all 50 states. He will then work with Congress to repeal the full legislation as quickly as possible.”

Many of Romney’s supporters assume that this is what will happen if he wins. But in truth, even if Republicans take both the White House and the Senate, Romney wouldn’t have the power to “repeal the full legislation.” Nor could a new president grant waivers that would let states ignore the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We live in a nation ruled by law, not magic wands.

That said, those who support reform should keep a close eye on the Massachusetts Senate race, where Democrat Elizabeth Warren is challenging Republican Senator Scott Brown. The outcome could determine whether Democrats continue to hold 53 seats out of 100. (Political analysts rate Brown and Nevada’s Dean Heller as the two most vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents. If Republicans win the Senate, they won’t be able dismantle reform, but they could do serious damage to the ACA, by eliminating the subsidies that will help middle-class and low-income Americans purchase insurance. But even if they take over the Senate they will not be able to change the new rules for insurance companies.

                                    Romney’s Promises – and Why You Can’t Believe them

Begin with the “Obamacare waivers” for the states.

“There are no ‘Obamacare waivers’ that could be issued by executive order,” Washington & Lee health law scholar Timothy Jost explained in a recent phone interview. That’s right: these waivers simply don’t exist. Here, we’re tripping over one of those “Big Lies” that have become a feature of the Romney campaign. (Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was the master of the tactic: if you tell a colossal lie, and repeat it often enough, people will believe it, not matter how outrageous. After all, who would make up such a whopper?)

On the HealthAffairs BlogJost elaborates :

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