2 years, 2 faces ofobama’s health care law
GOP to make move amid partisan rift
President Obama’s health care overhaul marks its second anniversary this week, and from the way Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are talking about it, you would think they are looking at two entirely different laws.
The administration and its congressional allies have homed in on provisions among the law’s 1,000 pages that offer quick returns: extending parents’ plans to cover young adults, expanding drug coverage for seniors and eliminating lifetime benefit caps.
But for Republicans, the focus is almost exclusively on the long-term costs of the law and potential limits they say the government will be forced to impose on care. Both, they argue, will cancel out any immediate benefits.
To pack an extra political punch just days before the Supreme Court hears a challenge to the law, House Republican leaders have said they will hold a vote before the end of the week on legislation repealing a key part of the law — a panel of appointees charged with curbing Medicare costs called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).
“Nearly two years since its passage, the Democrats’ health care law remains deeply unpopular,” said Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “IPAB, which is a critical component of the law, illustrates why those concerns are still so strong.”
Democrats are pointing to immediate benefits from the law in an effort to rehabilitate its image in the minds of voters, who take a dim view of it two years after its passage. An Abc-washington Post poll released Monday found that Americans oppose the law by 52 percent to 41 percent.
The law also faces legal pressures. The Supreme Court holds several days of oral argument on the law next week, with a ruling expected this summer.
The House IPAB repeal vote will mark the 26th time the House has voted to repeal all or part of the health care law, although nearly all of the efforts have been blocked in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The problem with IPAB, Republicans charge, is also the main problem with the rest of the Affordable Care Act: too much federal control over health care decisions. Painting the federal law as a tangle of federal bureaucracy and oppressive regulations, they say it will cause health care costs to rapidly inflate, weighing on businesses and crushing job creation.
“This ‘government knows best’ approach is why Americans across the country support repeal, and it is also why there is strong bipartisan support here in Congress to repeal IPAB,” Mr. Camp said.
Democrats said they have plenty of evidence that the law is working, taking special pains this week to highlight how it has helped such Democratleaning voters as young adults, women and seniors.
House Democrats gathered Wednesday to applaud a new requirement for insurers to cover children up to age 26 on their parents’ plans. While the number of uninsured as risen in most age categories since the law was enacted, the number has dropped among young adults with some 2.5 million added to insurance rolls, according to estimates by the administration.
“I can think of no stronger provision in the Affordable Care Act there is than to protect young people under the age of 26 and enabling them to go on their parents’ health insurance plan,” said Rep. Donna F. Edwards, Maryland Democrat.
A group of Democratic female senators pointed to provisions aimed at helping women, praising the law for “groundbreaking advancements” in women’s health.
Under the law, insurers can’t drop women from coverage when they get pregnant or charge them higher premiums than men. Insurers also must cover preventive services such as mammograms and contraception without charging co-payments, among a number of other provisions.
“That was what the Affordable Care Act was all about,” said Rep. Lois Capps, California Democrat. “Fixing a broken health care system . . . for women across this country and for their families, this law gets it right.”
The administration also added muscle to the effort, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announcing last week an initiative called Mycare, where the administration posts a video each day of an individual who has benefited from the law.
On Monday, it was a woman identified as Helen R., a senior who would fall into a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage called the “doughnut hole,” but who will now receive a 50 percent discount on drugs under the health care law.
On Tuesday, the administration highlighted Vanessa Mishkit, a nurse in Tampa, Fla., who still will be able to obtain coverage for her son despite serious birth defects because the law bans insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
On Wednesday, there was a video about Steven Giallourakis, 21, of Cleveland, who can remain on his parents’ plan as he combats chronic medical conditions from cancer treatments.
Although Democrats emphasized that the regulations are good news for consumers, Republicans predicted a different outcome, warning of serious side effects from imposing more rules on insurers and businesses.
Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Barrasso of Wyoming released a “checkup” on the health care law, in which they said a medical loss ratio governing how much insurers can spend on overhead will cause a collapse in the private insurance market, causing millions of Americans to lose their insurance plans, cost the economy 788,000 jobs and increase Medicare’s unfunded liabilities by $2 trillion.
Besides all that, Republicans also have focused attacks on how the health care law will affect overall federal spending.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, complained about a report by the Congressional Budget Office estimating that the law will cost more than originally expected.
“These are not partisan points — these are objective facts,” Mr. Stearns said. “Proponents of the law promised lowered premiums, they promised lowered costs and they promised that if you didn’t want your coverage to change, it would not. That is simply not the case.” the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo’s retirement home.
”When you come out of the back of the chapel, you can see the facility,” said Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society. “When they have given their entire lives to teach those children of Stone Park — after a lifetime of service to their faith — these sisters’ reward in their retirement years is to be in constant view of the large pornographic palace.”
Opponents of the club have a public vigil scheduled, and the Thomas More Society hopes to use a state “buffer zone” law to prevent the club from opening after, they claim, the village rolled over to the big developer on local zoning laws that could have prevented the club.
According to its owner, Get It will be more than a beer-shots-and-pole establishment, instead offering professional-level topless dancing in a high-tech environment comparable to the famous burlesques of Paris.
“We are Lido for the 21st century,” club owner Robert Itzkow said in an interview with the “Roe & Roeper” radio show on WLS-890 AM. “A strip club we are not.”
He said his club will be a good neighbor, both to the nuns and the rest of the townsfolk, explaining his building has been soundproofed and its lighting set up so as not to affect the nuns next door.
Dancers will be partially clothed and perform burlesque in a venue that features a Cirque du Soleil-style trapeze, Mr. Itzkow said, adding that he also plans to landscape the rear of the building, which is nearest the nuns’ home, with 20-foot-high trees that will shield the two establishments from each other’s view.
But in a public statement, Mr. Itzkow called the sisters of the convent his “non-taxpaying neighbors” and accused them of religious intolerance.
“As a legal, tax-paying citizen of this community, we ask only to be judged fairly by what we have done and not through the recent religious fervor,” Mr. Itzkow said. “You treat us as we have treated you, by not trying to unduly disturb us by imposing your religious beliefs on us or others. All throughout our plans for this project, we’ve followed the letter and spirit of the law.”
Several of the nuns have spoken out against the club in stories that have received front-page attention in Chicago.
They have said that when they asked about the construction project, they were told it was a restaurant — not a temple to nudity and lust.
“We are religious. We espouse certain beliefs. As Catholic religious, we take vows and we have something like this, totally opposite, going on. It’s not safe,” Sister Marissonia Daltoe told Chicago FOX-TV affiliate WFLD.
There are legal issues, too, said attorneys with the Thomas More Society, a Catholic group.
Mr. Breen told the Stone Park Village Board that his public-interest law firm has identified a state law that calls for a 1-mile “buffer zone” between adult entertainment facilities and “places of worship.”
He argued that the location of the Get It club next to the nuns’ home is therefore not legal and that construction on the business must be stopped.
His organization has offered the village free legal help in opposing Mr. Itzkow, but thus far it has not taken the offer.
“We contend that state law is pretty clear,” he said. “That the 1,000 feet [buffer zone] applies. We’ve asked the village for an interim step to put a hold on the permit process and take some time to examine the state law. The village doesn’t want to do it. We really want to see very concrete actions.”
The town will allow Mr. Breen’s attorneys through Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA) to keep daily track of the permit process in advance of the club’s opening, which is on track for sometime this spring.
Mr. Breen said town residents also are “very much upset,” noting that “even apart from the religious aspect, there are literally residential homes that back up to that facility. There is a swing set right next to it.”
The club has been in dispute with the city for more than two years. Twice the village’s board voted against it, but Mr. Itzkow filed a lawsuit, arguing that zoning laws allowed him to build there.
He also accused town officials of a shakedown, demanding money and a cut of the profits in exchange for the right to build his club.
The lawsuit was later settled in 2010, with town leaders granting permission to build and saying the legal expense to fight the club was financially prohibitive.
Within the settlement agreement, the town’s own buffer-zone-ordinance restrictions, between adult entertainment establishments and schools, parks, churches, and residential areas, were voided, actions that Mr. Breen calls the village “giving away the store.”
Others in this blue-collar community, struggling to shake off its seedy past, which has included prostitution, gambling and alleged mob activity, are outraged by Mr. Itzkow’s venture.
A candlelight vigil is planned for Thursday as area residents take to the street in protest.
Stone Park Mayor Ben Mazzula did not return a call for comment on the dispute.
Mr. Breen said his group does not plan to give up its defense of the sisters’ professed right to live without exposure to such a business.
“If the facility is not legal under state law, they still have to enforce state law,” he said of the village. “We argue convincingly that the contract is voidable because it makes no sense that one would waive and repeal numerous local ordinances, the constitutionality of which had not been challenged” in the lawsuit.