GOP Says Coverage For The Uninsured Is No Longer The Priority

By Julie Rovner
NPR, July 27, 2012

For decades, the primary goal of those who would fix the U.S. health system has been to help people without insurance get coverage. Now, it seems, all that may be changing. At least some top Republicans are trying to steer the health debate away from the problem of the uninsured.

Take this exchange between Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this month, just after the Supreme Court upheld most of President Obama’s health law.

Wallace: “What specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?”

McConnell: “That is not the issue. … The question is how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system? It is already the finest health care system in the world.”

But McConnell isn’t the only top Republican saying covering the uninsured should no longer be the top priority.

“Conservatives cannot allow themselves to be browbeaten by failing to provide the same coverage numbers as Obamacare,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told a conference at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “To be clear, it is a disgrace that so many American families go without health insurance coverage. But we cannot succumb to the pressure to argue on the left’s terms.”

“Every once in a while, the Republicans have rare moments of honesty. And so when they say that they don’t want to expand coverage, this is one of those rare moments,” says Ethan Rome, who runs Health Care for America Now, an advocacy group working to promote and defend the health care law.

“They look around and they see middle-class families and others in need, and what do they want to do? They want to give tax breaks to the super rich,” he says. “That’s who they are and what they do. And I think that’s why they’re starting to talk about how they don’t want to expand coverage. Because they at least want to be truthful about a couple of things. And those are the ways in which they want to abandon certain populations and be frank about it.”

So the Republicans contend that the problem of the uninsured “is not the issue,” but the Democrats have enacted a program that pretends to provide universal coverage when they are leaving 30 million uninsured. Who is being honest here?

Because the issue of national health insurance has been associated with liberal/progressive politicians, some have mistakenly assumed that Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) has aligned itself with the Democratic Party. This is a non sequitur.

PNHP is a 501(c)3 organization, and, as such, does not support any political candidate nor any political party.

More importantly, PNHP is a single issue organization, exclusively supporting a single payer national health program – an improved Medicare for all. Neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party supports single payer.

During the political season, it is tempting for single payer supporters to select a party that might be more open to single payer, and then to support candidates of that party in the election. But top down doesn’t work, as those who supported the Democrats can now see. The top rejected single payer.

We need a bottom up approach by joining together in coalitions, by educating the public, and by promoting grassroots efforts to bring a loud and clear single payer message to all would-be politicians, regardless of political affiliation. As individuals, we can support candidates that lead on the single payer issue, but as an organization, PNHP will lead on policy, not politics.