On the eve of the two-year anniversary of the passage of health-care reform, the House on Thursday voted to strip away elements of the landmark reforms, approving a bill that Republicans considered a key test of Democratic lawmakers facing tough reelection battles this fall.
The Protecting Access to Healthcare Act (PATH) passed 223 to 181 with seven Democrats voting for the measure that caps medical malpractice non-economic damages at $250,000 and eliminates the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a 15-member panel set to begin advising Congress on changes to Medicare in 2014.
In recent months, lobbyists representing doctors, hospitals and drug companies united with congressional Republicans to assure Thursday’s vote would succeed.
Though the bill is unlikely to be considered by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Republicans this week used language reminiscent of the debate held two years ago over health-care reform, labeling the IPAB a group of “unelected bureaucrats” that would jeopardize a patient’s relationship with their doctor.
“When bureaucrats choose, patients lose,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said about the board Wednesday.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a practicing physician, called the panel “a socialist dream, but it’s a nightmare for the American people” that would adversely affect Medicare.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the GOP once again is trying to “unravel Medicare”and distract from their plans to overhaul the program.
Republicans “have said that their goal for Medicare is for it to ‘wither on the vine,’ ” Pelosi said Wednesday. “And [this] legislation is a part of the withering on the vine. It’s important for you to know that if you care about Medicare, if you depend on Medicare — this is the wither on the vine scenario.”
Defending the law Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said it “makes certain that the richest nation in the world never again turns its back on the despair, helplessness and suffering of the least among us.”
Democrats this week spoke more confidently about the reforms and swung hard at Republicans on the issue, citing public and internal polling that they said shows support for their work on the issue and for individual elements of the law, including expanded coverage for seniors and young adults.
“Since none of the Republican predictions have come true — such as so-called death panels or the tripling of premiums — people are questioning whether the Republicans were truthful about the bill,” said Liz Chadderdon, president of the Chadderdon Group, a Democratic political consulting firm working with congressional candidates. “In short, most Americans are growing more and more comfortable with the legislation.”
Despite the confidence, Democrats once again admitted this week that they failed to take control of the debate two years ago.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) faulted the “enormous amount of money” spent to “scare seniors” into believing the law would strip $500 million out of Medicare.
“The lies that were told about Medicare in the 2010 cycle I think are going to be refuted by facts on the ground and by major truth-squad efforts to make sure that all voters understand the benefits that they’re enjoying now and will in the future,” she said.
“The messaging was the problem,” conceded Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who added that she wished Democrats could rewind to a time “where we can talk about all of the messaging that went on by our colleagues on the other side that were just outright lies. Talk about all of the benefits that have accrued.”
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
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