In December 2003, Democrats in Congress overwhelmingly opposed President Bush’s Medicare Part D prescription drug program. With good reason. The new benefit included the infamous “donut hole,” a gap in coverage which still saddled many seniors with out-of-pocket costs for their prescriptions. Making matters worse for 45 million elderly and the United States Treasury alike, the law crafted by then representative and future PhRMA president Billy Tauzin (R-LA) prohibited Uncle Sam from negotiating drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies as the VA and most industrialized economies have long done. Adding insult to injury, the Republicans’ new government program was completely unfunded, adding a projected $400 billion to the national debt over a decade because, as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) later explained, “it was standard practice not to pay for things.”
But when its disastrous launch in January 2006 left “Bushcare” teetering on the brink of catastrophe, Democrats in Congress and in the states moved quickly to help the administration and American seniors. Computer systems failed. The web-based comparison shopping “exchange” experienced serious glitches. Some six million Medicare/Medicaid “dual eligibles” found themselves unable to get their prescriptions filled. As future House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) put it, “The implementation of the Medicare plan has been horrendous.” Nevertheless, as the New York Times reported on January 16, 2006, 20 states—most of them Democratic—“announced that they will help low-income people by paying drug claims that should have been paid by the federal Medicare program.” As a freshman Senator named Hillary Clinton explained her party’s response to the Republican fiasco:
“I voted against it, but once it passed I certainly determined that I would try to do everything I could to make sure that New Yorkers understood it, could access it, and make the best of it.”
To put it another way, both sides don’t do it.
As the unveiling of the Senate GOP health care bill this week once again showed, the subterfuge, sabotage and sheer cruelty of the 8-year Republican effort to abort the Affordable Care Act know no limits. A calamity a wiser Donald Trump might call “American carnage”—22 million more uninsured Americans, millions more facing financial ruin, gutted essential health protections, skyrocketing premiums to maintain comparable coverage, jacked-up deductibles, spiraling out of pockets costs and over 200,000 needless deaths by 2026, all to fund an $600 billion tax cut windfall for the wealthy—Mitch McConnell’s “Better Care Reconciliation Act” has nothing to do with “replacing” Obamacare. For 25 years, Republicans have never wanted to enable universal health care coverage for the American people, but only to prevent the Democratic Party from doing so.
We know this—that is, that Republicans feared not Obamacare’s failure, but its success—because they told us so.