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The House of Representatives is set to vote today on repealing the health care overhaul. That vote is largely seen as symbolic. While there's no question that the repeal bill will get through the Republican-dominated House, it has no chance in the Democratic-majority Senate. Still, as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, this exercise is setting the tone for a health care debate that's sure to continue.
JULIE ROVNER: The formal title of the House GOP bill is, quote, "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." But in the wake of the recent shootings in Arizona, the phrase job-killing was barely mentioned during the first few hours of debate on the House floor yesterday. Instead, Republicans like Lamar Smith of Texas used more restrained language to describe their distaste with the health measure passed last year.
Representative LAMAR SMITH (Republican, Texas): I support this legislation that repeals the Democrat's job-stifling, cost-increasing, freedom-limiting health care law.
ROVNER: And some Republicans, like Smith's fellow Texan Ted Poe, were able to make their feelings known by being pointed rather than personal.
Representative TED POE (Republican, Texas): And if you like the efficiency of the post office, the competence of FEMA, and the compassion of the IRS, we will love the nationalized health care bill.
ROVNER: One key reason the House is voting on the repeal even though leaders know it's doomed is that dozens of new Republican members got elected last November, nearly every one of them promising to fight to get rid of it.
Many, like Michigan freshman Justin Amash, say the law simply gives the federal government too much power, particularly the requirement that nearly every American either have health insurance or else pay a penalty.
Representative JUSTIN AMASH (Republican, Michigan): If this law is constitutional, if Congress has such broad power, our limited federal government will have become limitless.
ROVNER: Democrats, meanwhile, let others do their most impassioned talking. They held an informal hearing featuring actual people who are benefiting from some of the parts of the law that have already taken effect. Among them was Ed Burke of Palm Harbor, Florida. He has hemophilia. His medication alone can run $18,000 a week. That's pushing a million dollars a year.
Burke, who was profiled by NPR last fall, has wrestled over the years with lifetime caps on various insurance policies he'd have on the job.
Mr. ED BURKE: Once you have reached your lifetime cap, you would be forced to pay the rest of your health care out-of-pocket or to change jobs, and sometimes even careers, in order to have health benefits and a new cap.
ROVNER: But Burke told the Democratic lawmakers he no longer has to worry.
Mr. BURKE: Our new patient's rights prohibit insurance companies from having such caps, and even removed annual limits so that any insured American can receive all the care they need without fear.
ROVNER: The Democrats also heard from Claudette Therriault of Sabattus, Maine. Therriault and her husband are seniors on Medicare who have high drug costs and have come face-to-face with the program's so-called doughnut hole. It forces people to pay for their own drugs while still paying monthly drug insurance premiums. In the Therriault's case it was thousands of dollars.
Ms. CLAUDETTE THERRIAULT: We didn't foresee this, and it was devastating. This is four house payments for us. We had to choose between defaulting on our loan or my husband's health.
ROVNER: Therriault says she's looking forward to this year, when the new law will provide a 50 percent discount for brand name drugs once seniors reach that donut hole threshold.
Ms. THERRIAULT: This assistance could have saved us thousands last year.
ROVNER: So while the legislative battle is likely to end in a draw, at least for now, the battle for public opinion rages on. A new CNN poll just out provides more ammunition for both sides. For Republicans, it finds half of those polled think the law should be repealed. But Democrats will take heart in the fact that nearly eighty percent of Americans favor at least some aspect of the health law.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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