Back in 2010, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi shared an incredible observation about one of the most ambitious and expansive pieces of legislation in American history: “We have to pass the bill so we can find out what is in it.”
She was talking about the Affordable Care Act, the health care bill, which just concluded a three day hearing in the United States Supreme Court — the longest since the Miranda trial in the 1960s — to determine whether this law is even constitutional.
Last week we passed the two-year anniversary of the health care bill. By now all of America is learning “what is in it.” And the vast majority aren’t liking it. An ABC/Washington Post poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans want the law, or the individual mandate that ties it all together, tossed out entirely.
Why so much opposition? New taxes to everyday Alaskans, millions of Americans left uninsured and severe cuts to Medicare to pay for the health care law — unless the Supreme Court acts. Americans who do not obtain federally approved health insurance will be fined $695 or 2.5 percent of their taxable income, whichever is greater. This means in 2016, 50 percent of all Alaskans would face this tax if they do not buy the health insurance required by the federal government. Also, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released a new projection suggesting 4 million fewer people will obtain insurance through their employer or insurance exchange as an effect of the health care law.
Beyond these repercussions, the law also has scheduled cuts of $528 billion to the Medicare program. The Institute of Social and Economic Research at UAA has predicted the health care bill will particularly hurt Alaska’s Medicare beneficiaries, coming to the conclusion: “Federal health care reform applied to Alaska likely will exacerbate an already very challenging access situation for Alaska’s seniors.”
There are a lot of other troubling facts out there that we learn as the law is implemented and watching the policy get closer to becoming a reality. For instance, the head of the non-partisan Congressional Budget office said the law would lead to “a reduction of 800,000 workers.” As if that wasn’t bad enough given the current economy, the law causes $2.6 trillion in new federal healthcare spending and a $311 billion increase in health care costs. With the unemployment rate stagnant and our national debt approaching $16 trillion, this is a one-two punch we cannot afford.
What’s equally troubling is the silence from the people who put this bill into place. The advocates on Capitol Hill in both the Senate and the House aren’t talking about it. The Obama White House had no comment about the health care bill on its 2-year anniversary — the same White House that chose to prioritize this bill above a dismal jobs forecast as the unemployment rate rose above 9 percent. But rather than tout the law’s two-year birthday, America heard nothing.
Instead of having a discussion in the U.S. Capitol about how to truly address the nation’s health care needs on a bipartisan basis, the discussion is now in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court over whether the mandate forcing all Americans to purchase a service passes Constitutional muster. Justice Anthony Kennedy, seen as a key judge in this case, told the attorneys arguing on behalf of the health care bill that they face a “heavy burden” in their argument that a mandate is defensible.
I continue to believe, as I have for two years, that we must repeal the health care reform law, including the tax hikes on small businesses, students and American families, onerous new IRS requirements and health care cuts to senior citizens on Medicare.
But we cannot stop there.
We must replace the flawed law with reforms that will halt the spiraling costs of health care. Potential reforms would include addressing medical malpractice reform to reduce the practice of defensive medicine, allowing insurers to sell across state lines and creating incentives for health care providers to be reimbursed for the value of their services rather than the volume of their services.
As I told hundreds of Alaskans during my economic town halls last fall, it boils down to a difficult truth: America’s health care costs are one of the key drivers of our national debt. We need to come together find a solution that improves every American’s quality of life. We need a responsible path forward because Americans need and deserve sustainable health care.
• Murkowski is Alaska’s senior senator.
• Editor's note: This piece has been changed to reflect the fact Murkowski identified Justice Anthony Kennedy as a key judge in the health care cases.