On October 1, uninsured Americans can begin enrolling for coverage under the new health care law, and the President wants to make sure people know it. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” he said last week, even as House Republicans threatened a government shutdown over his signature legislation. He mocked a GOP lawmaker who compared the new law to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. “Think about that,” the president said. “Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slave owners get their runaway slaves back. All of this would be funny if it weren’t so crazy.”
He’s right. Amid the myths, distortions, and lies surrounding “Obamacare,” it’s easy to overlook a few facts: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was created with Republican input. It represents the broadest opportunity ever for Americans to access health care. And through their continued opposition to the ACA, Republicans risk creating another divisive issue between their party and Latinos.
Foes of the ACA prefer to forget the program’s Republican roots. But the Obama Administration used then-Governor Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan as the basis for “Obamacare.” The idea for the individual mandate, one of the most controversial parts of the law, originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation. During the writing of the ACA, Republican lawmakers inserted provisions to make it deficit neutral, to make sure no public funds were used for abortions, and to ensure quality control. Many GOP proposals were incorporated into the final bill.
Republican lawmakers have grown accustomed to spreading falsehoods about the ACA. So what is the GOP plan for health care? After years of promoting the idea of “repeal and replace” without offering a replacement, Republicans have produced an alternative bill. Contingent upon the repeal of the ACA (which is highly unlikely), their plan allows for an expansion of health savings accounts, medical liability reform, and purchasing of health insurance across state lines. That’s about it. The plan would do little for the nation’s low-income and uninsured population, which includes 15.8 million Hispanics.
By contrast, under the ACA the New York Times notes that “Thanks to the (government) subsidies, more than half of the uninsured Americans may pay less than $100 a month per person for coverage.” For a mid-level plan, those who enroll in the ACA would pay about $328 a month, with most people qualifying for a subsidy to lower that price.
Republicans should recognize that their party’s obsession with “Obamacare” holds the potential to further erode their standing with Latinos. A poll by the Pew Research Center finds that 61 percent of Hispanics approve of the law. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post is correct in his assessment that “…Republicans may be making things worse with (Latinos) with their extreme tactics to defund or delay Obamacare.” Consider that a brand-new poll shows that Hispanics feel increasingly negative towards the GOP, largely because of immigration. The last thing the GOP needs is to be on the wrong side of another issue that matters to Latinos.
Sure, glitches will occur as the ACA goes into effect. The Obama administration has already announced that their Spanish-language website will not be ready to accept enrollments for health coverage until mid-October. As a result, they’ve planned a National Hispanic Week of Action to educate Latinos about the law. That’s a smart move, because 89 percent of Hispanics want to learn more about the ACA. Meanwhile the GOP continues to let their antipathy for President Obama outweigh any sense of responsibility to the electorate on health care. Their opposition to the ACA is nothing more than non-governance masquerading as conservatism.
The prospect of affordable health care in the U.S. is historic, and it defies reason and rationality for the GOP to be so against it. Latinos and all Americans deserve better.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.