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The Battle for Open Market Health Solutions

With the Fourth of July having come and gone, the healthcare debate in America is still alive and well. Senate Republicans released their healthcare bill draft to the public two weeks prior to the Fourth of July recess, and they rushed to get the Congressional Budget Office report on the measure. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) scheduled a 'vote-a-rama' and open debate to create transparency, counteracting the Democratic message of a ‘secret’ healthcare proposal being crafted – never mind the fact that these same Democrats marketed Obamacare with the tagline ‘pass [Obamacare] to see what’s in it.’ All was on track for a hopeful passage of the bill, titled the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” until a group of nine GOP Senators ended up retracting their support from the draft bill in its original form. Leader McConnell promptly delayed the vote, and each of the nine Senators gained instant attention throughout the news broadcasting networks.

So where are we currently on healthcare reform in the United States Senate? Not very far. While hoping to see news of healthcare strides as early as next week, Senators seem to be working within their ranks to create a modified version of the bill that will pass with a Republican majority. Amidst an era of Democratic “obstructionism,” the Hill reported Thursday that McConnell was considering trying to simply fix the Affordable Care Act if the votes were not reached in the Senate, which would create a point of friction with those same voters who helped to create the current Senate majority during the 2016 election. President Trump invited all of the Senators to the White House, hoping to assist with the healthcare process, yet still little information exists on the road forward for Senate Republicans.

The road forward seems rocky at best. The fork in the road, one that will determine the entire result of the healthcare debate, is whether Senate Republicans will attempt to “repeal and replace” the ACA or if, as the President and current Senate dissenter Rand Paul (R-KY) suggests might be the better option, the Senate holds a vote for full repeal, with a replacement to be determined on a later date. The President encapsulated his and Senator Paul’s option for passage in a colorful yet simple tweet: “If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” While this option has yet to receive any comment from Senate GOP leadership, it represents one of the possibilities that voters may end up seeing in the coming weeks.

The group of Senators currently dissenting from the BCRA include Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) who are hoping to not cut funding for Planned Parenthood, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul who believed the original Senate draft did not fulfill the mandate of repealing Obamacare, as well as others like Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) who have been lobbied by their constituents to oppose the BCRA’s Medicaid provisions. Finally, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) detracted originally because he had believed voting on repeal and replace before the Fourth of July was too hasty; he has yet to comment about his vote following the delay of the July fourth vote.

However, the deeper question remains unanswered: why is this so unilateral and complicated? For the latter, sure, healthcare is an issue the GOP and America, frankly, need to make radical reforms on and get correct due to an increase in failing healthcare markets. Yet despite the severity of the situation, Democrats have yet to lend their support to the GOP on a bi-partisan reform bill. It would be shocking, it seems, to find even five Democratic senators at Mitch McConnell’s office even inquiring about whether they could sit down and perhaps discuss a more amicable solution. Instead of offering help on crafting a uniform piece of legislation, Democrats merely pointed voters to Hillary Clinton’s campaign website which contains a plan she claimed, “Includes radical provisions like how not to kick 23 mil (people) off their coverage.”

In analyzing Democratic strategy, one must always pull back the curtain to see what lies behind the rhetoric. Affordable healthcare is not a partisan issue: all sides want people to receive quality healthcare at a price that is affordable for all people. What is partisan about covering Americans is whether the government can sign the hospital bill or not. Democrats would be more than happy to watch Obamacare fall apart, alongside the insurance market and free market solutions, so that they can finally switch to a single-payer system. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pulled back the metaphorical curtain for all to see last week: “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.” During his Presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders (D-VT) released a plan for single payer healthcare, but unsurprisingly the Congressional Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that his plan would cost “an additional $1.4 trillion per year” (emphasis added) and “could drive debt to 100 to 150 percent of GDP in 2026.” (emphasis added)

To be clear: single payer would be the single most disastrous healthcare policy choice in the United States. In such a fragile economic market, transitioning to single-payer healthcare could easily lead to collapse, as insurers are already unable to keep up with the regulations currently imposed by Obamacare. While Senate Democrats continue to fight for single-payer healthcare, or as they call it ‘Healthcare, not wealthcare,’ Senate Republicans have a real fight ahead of them. It is crucial to begin the rollback of Obama-era regulations on businesses, individuals, and insurers, as well as open healthcare to the free market and begin driving down prices to increase care.

William "Alex" Schramkowski is a second year student at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is currently working for Senator Lamar Alexander in Alexander's Memphis office.

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