Some responders thought Boehner should first deal with the nation’s finances. Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor of The Wall Street Journal online, suggested that “government spending has to be brought under control” by making some tough decisions about Medicare. Charles Scott, a Republican state senator from Wyoming, said: “the biggest thing to do is deal with the Medicare deficit. It’s about to eat our lunch.”
Other comments were puzzling, like those from former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala and Ron Pollack, who heads Families USA and who was the leading consumer advocate for what finally emerged from the sausage grinder. Shalala, who worked for Bill Clinton for eight years, suggested that Boehner review the legislation with two former administrators of Medicare, Mark McClellan and Gail Wilensky. Both worked for Republican administrations. She didn’t mention the Democrats who served under her as administrators. Maybe she figured Republicans wouldn’t talk to a Democrat anyway.
Pollack’s thing as one of reform’s chief cheerleaders was covering the uninsured, so I was surprised to see him put tort reform at the top of his list. Pollack did say he would tell Boehner to stop the “political and useless rhetoric about repealing” the law and look for areas of consensus. Apparently tort reform qualifies.
It was not surprising that several people preferred to repeal the law or parts of it. They didn’t like it in the first place, and seemed to be saying they would use their political muscle to get rid of what they don’t like. The list of repealers included Christie Herrera, who works for the American Legislative Exchange Council; Bruce Josten, an executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute; and a vocal consumer advocate named Jamie Court, representing a consumer watchdog based in California. He recommended that Boehner repeal the individual mandate and replace it with some kind of scheme that would allow sick people to buy insurance only at certain times of the year. Insurers would have to take all comers, even if they were at death’s door at the time.
A few other clues are worth mentioning. William Hoagland, once the right hand man to former Senate majority leader Bill Frist and now vice president for public policy at Cigna, said we cannot afford to subsidize families and individuals with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, about $88,000 for a family of four and about $43,000 for individuals. That tells me that the individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance, penalizing them if they don’t, and giving tax subsidies to those who need help paying the premiums might be on its way to unraveling. Was Hoagland signaling something?
And was Michigan Republican Dave Camp, who will most likely assume leadership of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, firmly in the repealers’ corner? He advocated bringing costs down by lowering premiums, and said he had an option to do that. Journos, keep an eye on that one!
In the spirit of man-on-the-street journalism, I invite you, dear readers, to post a comment or two offering your own advice to the next Speaker of the House.