The architect of Obamacare repeal cannot stop lying about his plan, even to people who know perfectly well they are going to be hurt.
Republicans’ prospects of passing their universally loathed health care bill are cratering, and at a CNN policy forum, one of its chief authors, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, did nothing to improve the bill's outlook.
Joined by co-author Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cassidy could offer up only empty falsehoods in support of his legislation.
And nowhere was this more apparent than when he lied to a child cancer patient’s face.
Kevin Potter and his daughter Erin have been fighting against Obamacare repeal all year. Erin was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, at age 3, and has survived two separate relapses of the cancer.
Kevin is afraid that under the Republican plan his daughter would become uninsurable, and so asked Cassidy to promise she would not lose coverage:
POTTER: Senator Cassidy, can you tell my daughter tonight how you plan to absolutely guarantee her that she will never be subject to exorbitant premiums that would make coverage for her impossible? So far as I can tell, and based on every analysis, your proposal strips that essential guarantee from her, and millions like her with pre-existing conditions.
Cassidy did not flinch, first complimenting Erin on her bravery:
CASSIDY: First, I admire your courage. Oh my gosh. So young, with so — dealing with so much. Again, I’ve treated folks like you and my hat’s off. The way I’m trying to keep you from having to pay exorbitant premiums is to try to replace Obamacare.
But then he veered off into random anecdotes of people who have seen increased premiums under Obamacare, and proceeded to throw right-wing jargon at Kevin and Erin.
CASSIDY: What we have in our proposal — people are shaking their heads, it’s on my Facebook page, check it out — on the other hand, what we hope to do is to give the states the resources which Amy just spoke of. If the state sets up a reinsurance pool, they can actually keep you in the main insurance pool, but otherwise lower the premium. That was done in Maine. It was said to lower premiums by as much as 20 percent for everybody, while at the same time making sure those that have the conditions actually have lower rates. But you gotta give power to the patient. By the way, that experiment in Maine, the Affordable Care Act squashed, even though now, that is what we speak of as the solution to the problem. We shouldn’t squash state innovation. We should improve it, so folks like you, Amy [sic], can have those affordable premiums.
In fact, most of what Cassidy said was false. Maine’s program, started in 2011, was not true reinsurance, but a high-risk pool. Under that system, older, sicker people went in a subsidized insurance pool with the same premiums as everyone else, but way less coverage, skimping on essential benefits like maternity care. And ultimately it was Obamacare, not this program, that increased coverage rates in Maine.
But there are even more problems with Cassidy's claims about reinsurance, as Klobuchar pointed out in her response:
KLOBUCHAR: You know, there is a difference here. The process I’ve been talking about, with the two senators working together, Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, and all the people that have been involved in that, a bunch of governors, Democrat and Republican, that would actually make the change that Senator Cassidy just mentioned, on the reinsurance, and do some other things.
Klobuchar is right. The Murray-Alexander bill, a true bipartisan bill that among other things would have created a real reinsurance program, was killed by Republican leaders so they could instead try to ram through Graham-Cassidy in the eleventh hour.
Finally, Klobuchar highlighted the most important problem with Cassidy’s promise:
KLOBUCHAR: But the bill that’s before us today, that bill just today, a preliminary analysis found that it would actually increase the rates for people with pre-existing conditions. That’s from the Congressional Budget Office, just today it came out. And why is that? Well, you know, you can have things available to you, like treatment, right? But if it’s too expensive, is it really available to you? If you see a Ferrari in a car lot, well, it’s available to you. But you can’t really buy it.
And that is the problem if the prices skyrocket. So it's doing something immediately to stabilize these prices, but then in the long term, making sure we can make health care more affordable.
Therein lies the problem. Cassidy’s bill does not make premiums more affordable. It cannot. His bill slashes nearly $4 trillion from state health funding over the next 20 years, and at some point those losses will be passed on to the poor and sick. It does not matter if the result is a bunch of varied, mix-and-match plans if half of them cover nothing and the other half are unaffordable.
It is important to note that Cassidy never actually responded to the original question. He did not once promise Erin she could stay covered, much the way every other Republican has dodged the issue.
Cassidy may well admire Erin’s courage, but if he had half the courage she does, he would look her in the eye, be honest with her, and fight for health policy that would benefit her rather than his rich donors.