Add former Minnesota Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger to the long list of knowledgeable individuals and organizations — among them, the nation’s doctors, hospitals and insurers — sounding the alarm about GOP health reforms moving swiftly toward a vote this week in the U.S. Senate.
Durenberger, who represented Minnesota from 1978 to 1995, is a widely respected voice on health care, serving as chairman of the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas before his 2014 retirement. In a forceful Monday commentary in USA Today, Durenberger warned senators against voting for poorly vetted legislation that likely would price millions of consumers out of coverage.
“I know that some of you ran for office vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, hoping to improve coverage and decrease costs. As public opinion polls tell us, voters do not believe this bill does the job,’’ Durenberger wrote. Voting no on what he calls a “mysterious hodgepodge” of reforms is the only vote “that will be defensible in the years to come.”
A critical vote could come Tuesday. It would allow the GOP reforms to move rapidly toward a Senate floor vote. Many observers view this vote as a strong indicator of passage.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board shares Durenberger’s concerns and has raised objections to both the Senate bill and the Affordable Care Act replacement passed by the House in May.
The Senate bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is similar to the House bill but calls for steeper cuts to Medicaid, which covers the elderly, the disabled and more than 30 million children. Much of the savings from gutting this safety-net program would fund tax cuts for industry and upper incomes — a reality that renders dishonest rhetoric about cuts being necessary to balance the federal budget.
It’s unclear what bill will be voted on as Senate leadership haplessly goes back and forth between replacing the Obama law or only repealing it. And it doesn’t appear that a final vote will be held off until the Congressional Budget Office has time to score changes made this week.
A “no” vote is the only prudent option. As for those worried about bucking President Donald Trump or GOP leaders, Durenberger notes that putting constituents first is always the “best medicine” for a long-lived political career.