BOISE – While vigorously defending the GOP House-passed health care bill, Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson told the Idaho Healthcare Summit that he wouldn’t have voted for it if he believed it would become law.
Instead, Simpson said, it’s the first step in a long process he contends is needed to get to a bipartisan solution to fix the nation’s health care system.
“There has never been a major American program – except Obamacare – that has passed on a partisan vote,” said Simpson, who represents Southern Idaho. “Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid – all of those were bipartisan votes, so that both parties have a stake in ’em.”
He expressed regret that House GOP leaders pressed forward with a health care bill that attracted no support from across the aisle, just as, he said, the previous Democratic Congress did when it passed Obamacare.
“This is something that some of us warned leadership about,” Simpson said. “We’re trying to do this all on our own. We ought to ignore whether we’re Republicans or Democrats and think of ourselves as Americans first and try to solve this health care problem. And we can do it.”
That comment was greeted by loud applause.
“It was interesting presiding over the debate,” Simpson told about 275 health care stakeholders, including physicians, educators, CEOs and company human resource directors on Monday morning. “If you listened to Democrats during this debate, and of course I was presiding, I kind of had to – I listened to both sides – if you listened to Democrats, you would think that Republicans don’t care about old people, young people or sick people. And if you listened to Republicans, you would think that if we passed this bill we had reached Nirvana. Neither of those are true.”
Simpson said in his view, the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama is failing, largely because in many states, insurers are fleeing exchanges while premiums and deductibles are rising. He noted that that hasn’t happened in Idaho.
“Idaho frankly has done a great job with their health care exchange,” he said. “It’s been one of the models in the country. It gives me faith that Idaho can design a health care plan for its citizens that actually works and is better.”
The Idaho Healthcare Summit was organized by the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls; it is the third annual summit, and the first held in Boise. The two-day summit runs through Tuesday and features an array of sessions about improving health care in Idaho.
“The whole idea is what can we do while we’re waiting for the government to do whatever it’s going to do,” said Roger Plothow, Post Register publisher.
Simpson, the summit’s first speaker, who took questions from the audience, was pressed on his support for the just-passed House bill.
“If I thought it was going to be the bill that became law, I would’ve voted against it,” he said. “Because there are some problems with it. I would be the first to admit it.”
But Simpson said his many years in Congress have taught him that there’s strategy – or “strategery, a term I learned from George W.” – to accomplishing things in Congress.
He said some Democrats would only support moving to a nationalized, single-payer system, while some Republicans demand that Obamacare be repealed without anything to replace it.
“While there are provisions in the health care bill that passed the House that I thought should have been stronger, some of them probably shouldn’t have been there – the Freedom Caucus actually made the bill worse, rather than better,” he said.
“Those are the extremes. The question is can the majority of us in the middle solve this problem? I think we can.”
Simpson, a dentist, recalled that when he first started practicing years ago in southern Idaho, only 10 percent of his patients had insurance, and the rest paid cash. “We used to get calls all the time: ‘What do you charge for a set of dentures?’ ‘What do you charge for a crown?’ ”
“That doesn’t happen anymore,” he said. “Now everybody’s on insurance, and it doesn’t make that much difference to their pocketbook whether they go to someone who charges $500 for a crown or someone who charges $600 for a crown.”
He said Republicans want to find ways to use market forces and competition to drive down health care costs.
“That’s called capitalism,” he said. “And then let individuals decide what coverage suits their needs, not the government deciding what you need for insurance – letting individuals decide what they need for their health care coverage. That’s called freedom.
“And realizing that no matter how low you drive health care costs, no matter how much you reduce it, there will still be people who cannot afford it, that are going to need assistance. That’s called compassion.”
Simpson said the GOP wants to “return power to the states, so that you can decide what works in Idaho, what fits Idaho.”
He isn’t sure the House-passed bill would work, but he stressed: “The House-passed bill is the first, and I repeat just the first, step in a long, long process.”
Next, he said, the Senate will write its own bill, and “it will be substantially different than the House bill. … And then we will go to conference and see if we can work out the differences between the House and the Senate and come out with a bill that can get 51 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House.”
Responding to questions about projections that millions of Americans would lose health coverage under the House bill, Simpson said that’s in part because Congress is trying to develop the bill under “reconciliation” rules – which allow a bill to pass the Senate with just 51, rather than 60, votes.
“We couldn’t do the entire replacement that we want to do with reconciliation. Which creates some problems,” including unfavorable scoring by the Congressional Budget Office.
“We need to try to cover as many people in the country as we can that want health care coverage,” Simpson said, saying there always will be some who won’t want it. “It’s hard to convince young people that you too can get in a motorcycle accident,” he said. “But part of it is getting the cost down to where people can afford it, which is what we’re trying to do.”
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