Our Views: Sick of Paul Ryan's talking points on health care

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

House Speaker Paul Ryan left the impression during Monday night's CNN town hall that the problems plaguing Obamacare could be fixed if only the Senate did its part and voted to repeal and replace it.

Ryan stuck to his talking points while sidestepping criticism of the bill he shepherded through the House in May—a bill that received virtually no support from health care professionals or advocacy groups, such as AARP. Whether by accident or design, questioners at the town hall never pressed Ryan on the shortcomings of the GOP health care bills.

The GOP created high expectations by spending the past seven years criticizing Obamacare. So nobody can be blamed for feeling let down when the House settled on a bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured in a decade, including 14 million from reduced Medicaid enrollment.

The GOP promise of lower premiums would ring true only for the healthiest and youngest people buying insurance from individual markets. But premiums for older Americans would skyrocket under the House bill, the CBO found.

At the town hall, Ryan touted high-risk insurance pools operated by states as key to solving Obamacare's problems. But it's not clear whether states or the federal government would adequately fund these pools, potentially leaving people with pre-existing conditions priced out of insurance markets.

Ryan conveyed Monday night, as he often does, his beliefs in broad, philosophical terms. In particular, he responded to a Dominican nun's question with a declaration that he wants to help the poor through “upward mobility, that means economic growth, that means equality of opportunity.”

But what Ryan learned (or should have learned) from the debate surrounding the House health care bill is that people don't view this bill as advancing the principles he claims to espouse. It's perplexing to think how dramatically slashing the number of insured Americans would lead to more “upward mobility” or “equality of opportunity.”

Indeed, the bill has proven so unpopular because many people view it as completely contrary to their own self-interests. They see a dissonance between Ryan's words and the bill adopted by the House.

The far-right elements within the Republican Party are blind to the dissonance, and they seem to have too strong a grip on Ryan. During the town hall, Ryan made no overtures, gave no indication that he's ready to work with Democrats to fix Obamacare. He appears to be following President Trump's lead in pushing the health care system to the brink, though Ryan's constituents have nothing to gain from Obamacare's collapse.

What this nation needs is a bipartisan commitment to figure out how to improve the health care system. But bipartisanship requires compromise—an acknowledgment that neither party will get everything it wants.

Unfortunately, both parties' leaders remain locked in a staring contest, waiting for the other to blink first. Each side seems to treat Beltway politics as a battle to be won, rather than a process to be driven through negotiation with the other party.

It's telling that Ryan never uttered the word “compromise” Monday night, according to our review of the evening's transcript, and that's perhaps the real shame in all of this. He seems content to advance the GOP agenda through the blunt force of partisanship, while his constituents would benefit from a new approach. They want peace of mind. They want a health care system that works for them.

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