Senate Dems see opportunity with health care repeal push

SENATE DEMS SEE OPPORTUNITY WITH HEALTH CARE REPEAL PUSH…. Over the weekend, some important new benefits took effect as part of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions of particular interest to seniors.

The “donut hole” in Medicare’s prescription-drug plan, for example, has created considerable burdens on millions of middle-income seniors. Their drug costs are covered initially, but once they reach a modest limit, these seniors who rely on their medications are stuck with big out-of-pocket costs until catastrophic coverage can kick in. As of Saturday, these Americans who’ve been stuck in the “doughnut hole” are eligible receive a 50% discount on the price of brand-name prescription drugs.

Today, the Senate Democratic leadership wrote Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) about this. The letter was pretty clever — Dems noted that Boehner’s caucus intends to try to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, but urged Republicans to consider what this would do to those seniors who’d feel the brunt of the GOP’s push.

The incoming House Republican majority has promised to enact a “clean repeal” of the federal health care law in the opening days of the new Congress. In a letter to Boehner, Senate Democratic leaders warned that undoing the law would jeopardize a number of popular consumer protections, including some that are just now taking effect.

“We urge you to consider the unintended consequences that the law’s repeal would have on a number of popular consumer protections that help middle class Americans,” the senators wrote. “The ‘donut hole’ fix is just one measure that would be threatened by a repeal effort. Taking this benefit away from seniors would be irresponsible and reckless at a time when it is becoming harder and harder for seniors to afford a healthy retirement.”

The senators added: “If House Republicans move forward with a repeal of the health care law that threatens consumer benefits like the ‘donut hole’ fix, we will block it in the Senate. This proposal deserves a chance to work. It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care.”

It’s of interest, of course, that the Senate Democratic leadership would write the letter vowing to block the GOP’s move, but there’s a larger significance to this — it’s the first hint of Dems playing offense on health care, at the national level, in a while.

As Greg Sargent explained, “This is another sign that Dems view the GOP’s push for repeal of reform as an opportunity of sorts. The debate sparked by the GOP’s repeal push, Dems hope, will allow Dems another chance to educate the public about what’s actually in the health care law, by pointing to the specific provisions that would disappear in the unlikely event that the Affordable Care Act were somehow to get repealed…. [I]t suggests Dems are gearing up to mount an aggressive response centered on informing the public about what’s in the law by emphasizing what repeal would take away from people.”

If this strategy seems kind of familiar, it’s because I recommended it for Dems yesterday. The message for the party seems pretty obvious to me — as 2011 gets underway, one of the top priorities of the new Republican majority isn’t job creation; it’s forcing vulnerable seniors to pay thousands of additional dollars for their medication and allowing insurers to discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions. The House GOP isn’t focused on economic growth; it’s focused on raising taxes on small businesses and taking away health care coverage for millions of middle-class families.

There’s some hints Dems see this as the opportunity it is. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) told the NYT yesterday, “We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people’s lives. On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions.”