When Sen. Rick Scott unveiled a controversial policy agenda in February, the Republican leader tackled a wide range of issues, but he was careful to ignore health care policy. As The Washington Post reported, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy chose the same course when unveiling his election-season blueprint.
The one-page document — called a “Commitment to America” — is vague, pointing to broad ideas like price transparency and competition, instead of a bold vision for the future of health reform. That’s by design. As one conservative health expert put it, the GOP still has “PTSD” from its failed effort in 2017 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
As a strategic matter, this certainly makes sense. Republicans started working on their own health care plan in the summer of 2009, and as of this morning, it still doesn’t exist. Even bringing up the topic reminds voters that GOP officials have repeatedly tried to take health care benefits from millions of families, so it stands to reason that the party would focus attention elsewhere.
For those of us who followed the “Obamacare” debate closely, this is a development that was tough to predict. As regular readers know, the Republican Party spent much of the past decade with a single message related to health care policy: Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The GOP has not only dropped that goal, it’s also hoping voters forget that the party ever pursued such a regressive policy in the first place.
There is, however, one nagging detail: Republicans appear terrified of a debate over health care policy, though there’s an exception to their dread. Axios reported late last week:
Some key House Republicans are calling for the repeal of Democrats’ newly-passed drug pricing measure if the GOP flips control of one or both chambers of Congress next year.... The comments show Republicans are not giving up the fight against sweeping measures aimed at lowering prescription drug prices, and give a glimpse of what their health agenda could look like.
It was one of the biggest wins in the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act: For the first time, Medicare will be empowered to negotiate the cost of some of the most expensive prescription medications with the pharmaceutical industry. Democrats have worked on this issue for nearly three decades, but Big Pharma’s lobbyists successfully stood in the way. This year, Democrats succeeded anyway.
Republicans aren’t just eager to undo the breakthrough policy, they don’t mind admitting that this is a GOP goal.
Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia told Axios, in reference to the Democratic policy measure, “If the courts haven’t gotten to it beforehand, yeah we’ve got to do our job and try to defend the Constitution.” Republican Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia replied “yes” when asked if he backed repeal of the drug pricing law.
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, is retiring, but he nevertheless added, “I would imagine that will be a top priority for Republicans in the new session.”
In the coming days and weeks, if Democrats warn voters that a GOP majority would make prescription medications more expensive, the warning will be rooted in fact.