The US House of Representatives’ new Republican leaders have pledged to set to work to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, but many experts believe they have little or no chance of doing so before the full Presidential and Congressional elections of 2012.
As the party took control of the House after the mid-term elections, Virginia Republican Eric Cantor, who is set to be its new Majority Leader, told CBS News he hoped that, when the new Congress returns in January, his party will be able to put a bill to repeal Pres Obama’s reforms on the floor of the House “right away, because that’s what the American people want.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also described the health care law as a “metaphor for the government excess we’ve witnessed over past two years,” but Ohio Representative John Boehner - who is set to replace Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker and in September had pledged that his party would “immediately take action to repeal this law”- cautioned: “it’s important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity and replace with it commonsense reforms that will bring down the cost of health care in America.”
A full rollback of the health care law would appear to be impossible before 2012, given the Senate’s continued Democrat leadership and the President’s power of veto. However, Republicans in the House and Senate have authored more than 30 bills aimed at dismantling the reforms, and they could target individual provisions of his plans for derailing by blocking appropriations funding for them.
“As a result, many healthcare lobby groups have already been lobbying for select measures to be removed,” says Datamonitor healthcare analyst Tijana Ignjatovic, who describes the Republicans’ taking of the House as “a double-edged sword for pharma, which over the past years has been a heavy supporter of the reform process and Democrats.”
For example, she says, drugmakers are set to benefit from the law’s requirement that most Americans should purchase health insurance, a measure which Republicans are most opposed to and want to see removed. “Thus, while the industry would want to see the Independent Payment Advisory Board - a body with powers to introduce ways to cut Medicare spending - removed, they have fought hard for the mandate to be included and would not want to see it repealed,” says Ms Ignajatovic.
But voters seem to have been driven less by the health reform - a CBS News exit poll found that while 48% wanted the plan repealed, 47% said it should be retained or even expanded - than by the state of the economy and the need for job creation, and this is reflected by industry leaders’ comments on the elections results.
Thomas Donohue, chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, said that voters had “sent a powerful message to Washington - focus on job creation and economic growth. Voters have resoundingly rejected more government spending, higher taxes and more burdensome regulations that have caused crippling uncertainty for businesses,” he said.
And John Castellani, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) called on the nation’s leaders “to recognize the important role that America’s biopharmaceutical research companies play in contributing to the national economy and creating millions of US jobs as they develop medical advances.”
“One way we can help our economy grow is to ensure that America remains the worldwide hub for scientific and medical research,” he said.
A bigger threat to the health reforms could come from the results of the race for governorships in 37 states and two territories also fought out on Tuesday, which resulted in the Democrats seizing control in states such as California and Hawaii but the Republicans increasing their number of state governors overall. Many observers believe that new GOP incumbents could be far more effective at reversing the progress of the law than their colleagues in Congress, should they decide, either individually or as a group, to employ tactics such as deliberately poor and slow implementation of its provisions, vetoing related state legislation or seeking waivers from some of its provisions.
However, the new governors are unlikely to take steps which would be unpopular with voters such as refusing the extra state funding for Medicaid and other health programmes provided under the new law, or risk losing future grants if they chose to discontinue reform-related programmes for which they have already received financing.
Meantime, several legal challenges to the constitutionality of the reforms are pending in US courts. Last month, a federal judge in Florida ruled that a suit filed by the state’s Attorney General, Bill McCollum, within minutes of President Obama signing the health care bill into law in March - and since joined by the governors or Attorneys General of 19 other US states - should go ahead. Judge Roger Vinson dismissed a motion by the federal government to have the suit rejected and warned it that it would have to prove the constitutionality of its requirement for the majority of Americans to obtain health insurance. A full hearing on the constitutional issues thrown up by the legislation is now due to be held on December 16.
A similar case, filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is also underway, and it is widely expected that at least one of these suits will reach a final resolution in the Supreme Court.