Murphy warns that Obamacare is under serious GOP assault

NEW HAVEN — Keeping health care available and affordable for everyone — and expanding the number of people covered — needs to remain a top priority as the administration of President Donald Trump attempts to overturn it, including an attempt to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional, U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., told a crowded auditorium at the Yale School of Public Health Monday.

Murphy said health care and jobs are the top subjects people are concerned about when he makes his annual walk across the state, and whether affordable access to health care is expanded or turned back will depend a lot on how Democratic congressional candidates do in the Nov. 6 elections.

“Very few people at gas stations or auto body shops are talking about the Russia investigation,” he said. “More than anything else … they’re talking to me about health. They are losing control over this system, they’re paying more and they don’t feel like they’re getting more.”

While “most of the conversation in the last year inside the political class … has been about what comes next,” Murphy said, “the threat’s right now. … To all those folks those threats are so significant that that’s where our focus has to be.”

Murphy favors a single-payer system and has sponsored, with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the Choose Medicare Act, making the government-run health care plan for those 65 and older available to anyone who chooses it. “Let’s make Medicare available to every single business and every single individual,” Murphy said. “We essentially say, if the theory is that Medicare is better, then let’s put it on par with private industry and see what people choose.”

The key to his bill, besides making the successful Medicare program available to anyone, is it would not be mandatory, but a choice by the consumer, he said.

“The reason I like choice is because choice wins everywhere,” he said. “I just think that if you’re talking about Medicare and you’re talking about choice, you’re on firm ground with everybody.”

His plan differs from a proposal by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who also proposes a single-payer plan. “Bernie says outlaw private insurance,” Murphy said, and he said he understands Sanders’ motivation, that “right now incremental change is not super-attractive to the people I’m meeting when I’m walking across Connecticut because their live are in big trouble right now.”

But Murphy said a new system would work only with bipartisan support. “If you want more Republican buy-in … then you need to think about something that’s a little more market-based,” he said. Plans that offer additional tax credits or other minor changes are not enough to solve the problem, he said.

He said that Trump, after losing his attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (notable for the late U.S. Sen. John McCain’s no vote at the 11th hour), boasted that, “I’m gutting the Affordable Care Act anyway.”

Trump has canceled money for marketing and advertising of alternative insurance plans and allowed insurers to offer “junk plans” that don’t cover mental health or pregnancy (those plans are not allowed in Connecticut).

“The administration is now trying to go to court to get the whole thing unwound,” Murphy said. Twenty states, led by Texas Attorney General Ted Paxton, are trying to get Obamacare thrown out because the individual mandate, requiring those who have no health insurance to pay a penalty, was repealed by Congress.

The administration would normally defend lawsuits against federal statutes. However, Murphy said, “Trump breaks precedent, decides not to do that, sends his lawyers to court to argue that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. … You should be worried.”

Murphy said people should talk about the “enormous progress since we passed the Affordable Care Act, and we should talk about it more. For so many years we were in a defensive crouch about it, and we should have been telling people about the fact that in a very short period of time we insured 20 million Americans who didn’t have access to health care before. That we cut the number of personal bankruptcies in this country, in five years, in half,” from 1.5 million to 750,000 families a year. “That’s extraordinary,” he said.

“There’s one reason for that. Medical debt is very, very rarely now the reason why you lose everything — your home, your savings,” he said.

He also said inflation in the health care industry is “not tamed, but it’s in a different place than it was before the Affordable Care Act.

“We didn’t do a good job of talking about all of that, but now that it’s under threat, you see the anxiety that’s very real in people’s faces,” Murphy said.

He said Trump and other Republicans are angry that they were unable to repeal Obamacare after six years of promising to do so. “Now that they’re faced with the inability to do what they promised they’re trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act and undermine the entirety of the entire health care system from behind the scenes,” he said.

Ultimately, Murphy said, voters need to work to elect Democrats to the House and Senate because politics can’t be separated from health care policy.

Asked if his ideas would reduce the number of jobs in the health care industry, Murphy said, “There is this argument that you can’t reduce expenditures on health care because there are people who work in health care,” he said. There is an argument that if money is put “into prevention, public health, intervention, you will also lose jobs in health care. And that is not a bad thing.”