Commentary: Republicans got what they wanted from health care overhaul

With all this talk about the need for more bipartisanship in Washington, the public might be surprised to learn that the U.S. Congress has already passed a bipartisan health care bill.

It began in the Senate Finance Committee. Six senators — Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Chairman Max Baucus — worked together for several weeks last summer. Negotiations began breaking down during the August recess with the hyper-partisan town hall meetings. Snowe was so alarmed by the distortions she asked President Obama to rebut some of the conservative allegations, according to the Washington Post.

Unfortunately, most of those distortions and scare tactics stuck.

The group of six senators never decided on a compromise after Grassley began talking about death panels and "pulling the plug on grandma." But their work provided the foundation for what came out of the Senate during a contentious party-line vote, solidifying in the public's mind that it was a liberal product.

But the bill was bipartisan even if it was passed by a partisan vote.

Republicans said they didn't want a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system or any form of a public option. Democrats went along with the GOP even though most Democrats and most of those polled wanted a government-run option.

Republicans wanted Americans to have the ability to buy health insurance across state lines. Democrats kept that GOP priority in the final bill.

Republicans said they didn't want a bill that would increase the deficit. The Senate bill could reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans said they didn't want an expansion of Medicare to those as young as 55 years old. Most Democrats were in favor of the expansion but went along with the GOP.

Republicans agreed that insurance companies should no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Democrats wanted the provision but knew it wouldn't work without an individual mandate, so they included both.

Republicans didn't get another of their priorities, tort reform. But the CBO has studied the issue and said it would bring down costs by only 1 percent to 2 percent. A recent study by Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research came to the same conclusion.

To recap: Republicans in the early 1990s helped block health care reform and did not take up the issue during the 12 years the GOP had control of Congress. Tens of thousands of uninsured people died unnecessarily every year during the GOP reign, premiums began doubling, thousands of companies had to drop insurance for employees, medical emergencies became the top reason for personal bankruptcies, and rising health costs forced a continued ballooning of the federal deficit.

A decade and a half later, Republicans got much of what the party wanted in the Senate bill and still refused to endorse reform and now is demanding an end to the debate or a shift to a modest proposal that won't deal with the heart of the problems that have been developing over the past several decades and will continue to worsen.

Republicans, even our own Sen. Lindsey Graham, are misleadingly saying reform will add to the deficit - CBO says it could cut it by $1.3 trillion - and is a government takeover of health care, even though the single-payer proposal was tossed early in the debate. The reform is not a government takeover of a sixth of our economy. That is a factual inaccuracy.

Many of those who opposed reform in the '90s because they were happy with their insurance are among the millions today struggling to find affordable coverage. Many of them are hardworking Americans shut out of an uneven, inefficient system. The same story will repeat itself in the coming years for more middle-class Americans if health reform dies again.

Republicans say we can't afford it. But every serious expert who has studied the system says we can't afford to not have reform.

If the nation is ever threatened by bankruptcy, out-of-control health care costs - not earmarks or defense spending - will be the culprit.

I wish more in my industry would become more concerned with conveying that reality than monitoring which party is better at playing political games of chicken.