San­ders calls for ral­lies to protest health plans

Says GOP pro­pos­als to cre­ate chaos

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Sen. Bernard San­ders and Demo­cratic lead­ers on Wed­nes­day called for na­tion­wide ral­lies as part of a “day of ac­tion” this month to protest GOP plans to dis­man­tle Oba­macare and re­vamp the Medi­care pro­gram for se­niors.

Mr. San­ders, the Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent who emerged as a pro­gres­sive hero dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, warned in a “dear col­league” let­ter that Repub­li­cans in charge of both cham­bers will use a fast-track bud­get tool to gut the Af­ford­able Care Act, im­per­il­ing cov­er­age for mil­lions.

He also said the GOP could pur­sue a “voucher­like” sys­tem for Medi­care, a nod to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s long­stand­ing plan to re­place the pro­gram’s open-ended en­ti­tle­ment with a “pre­mi­um­sup­port” model.

The let­ter pin­points Sun­day, Jan. 15 — the day be­fore Martin Luther King Day — as a day to pub­licly re­sist the GOP’s ideas.

“Ral­lies will be held around the coun­try to vig­or­ously op­pose the Re­pub­li­can plan to end Medi­care as we know it and throw our health care sys­tem into chaos,” Mr. San­ders wrote, with House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia and in­com­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

The ral­lies would co­in­cide with GOP ef­forts in the new Con­gress to use what’s known as “bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” to dis­man­tle Oba­macare on a ma­jor­ity-line vote and avoid a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster in the Se­nate.

Re­pub­li­can lead­ers and Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump say they will then re­place Oba­macare with a plan that uses mar­ket forces to en­tice Amer­i­cans into cov­er­age in­stead of an in­di­vid­ual man­date from the govern­ment, though they haven’t fully sketched out their plans.

GOP lead­ers say ex­ist­ing Oba­macare en­rollees will not for­feit cov­er­age while their party reaches for con­sen­sus on their own plan, though Democrats ar­gue this “tran­si­tion pe­riod” poses peril, since com­pa­nies may flee from Pres­i­dent Obama’s po­lit­i­cally doomed in­sur­ance ex­changes.

The Democrats’ let­ter al­ludes to an Ur­ban In­sti­tute study that es­ti­mated about 30 mil­lion Amer­i­cans could lose their in­sur­ance if the GOP fal­ters in its re­place­ment scheme — the re­sult of scrap­ping Oba­macare’s sub­si­dies for pri­vate plans, ex­pan­sion of the Med­i­caid pro­gram and the rip­ple ef­fect of up­heaval in the in­sur­ance mar­ket.

The po­ten­tial up­heaval has spooked some cen­trist Repub­li­cans, who say the party would be bet­ter off hav­ing a re­place­ment in hand be­fore en­act­ing re­peal.

Lead­ing Democrats also are spoil­ing for a fight over Medi­care, say­ing Repub­li­cans will get burned at the bal­lot box if they fid­dle with the pro­gram — of­ten called the “third rail” of pol­i­tics — that cov­ers about 55 mil­lion Amer­i­cans age 65 and older and younger peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

Mr. Trump ad­hered to that be­lief dur­ing the cam­paign, say­ing he would work to weed out waste and fraud in the big en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, but didn’t plan any ben­e­fit cuts.

Con­gres­sional GOP lead­ers, how­ever, say tough choices are needed to pre­serve Medi­care for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Mr. Trump’s de­ci­sion to se­lect Rep. Tom Price, Ge­or­gia Re­pub­li­can, as his sec­re­tary of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment sparked spec­u­la­tion that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could be pre­par­ing for a Medi­care fight, since the con­gress­man, who suc­ceeded Mr. Ryan as Bud­get Com­mit­tee chief, en­dorsed the Medi­care changes.

“It’s im­por­tant to bring the Amer­i­can peo­ple to­gether to fight this rad­i­cal pro­posal,” the Democrats wrote. “Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans voted for Don­ald Trump af­ter he promised not to cut So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care, and Med­i­caid. He must be held to his prom­ises and should veto any leg­is­la­tion which cuts these vi­tal and nec­es­sary health pro­grams.”

Un­der the Ryan plan, the govern­ment would of­fer a fixed con­tri­bu­tion to se­niors to help them buy pri­vate plans. The House speaker also wants to grad­u­ally raise the el­i­gi­bil­ity age from 65 to 67 for en­rollees.

Democrats worry the model wouldn’t keep pace with ris­ing med­i­cal costs, leav­ing se­niors in the lurch af­ter they paid into the sys­tem dur­ing their work­ing years.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Bernie San­ders has called for na­tion­wide ral­lies to protest GOP plans to dis­man­tle Oba­macare and re­vamp the Medi­care pro­gram for se­niors.

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