There was quite a to-do at the Capitol last week. I happened to be walking by as the body of the late Reverend Billy Graham was being carried up the steps into the Capitol. Thousands of people waited in line over the next few days to pay their respects and celebrate his life.
I was in Washington last week for my annual meeting of the National Association of Health Underwriters and for the opportunity to talk with members of Congress and their legislative aides. The supporters of Reverend Graham seemed to be the only people celebrating anything in Washington DC. Last year’s trip was only a few weeks after the inauguration. The mood in Congress was “What are we going to accomplish FIRST?” This year the mood seemed to be closer to “What the Hell just happened?”
Over the course of four days I spoke with people from all across the political spectrum. To be clear, the federal employees (Congressmen, aides, and security personnel), the insurance agents, and the political professionals are all patriots who love our country and are trying to do what they think is best. That seems to be the first thing lost in these debates and smear campaigns. One may question whether self-interest sometimes clouds one’s judgement. We are all human. But constantly questioning someone’s patriotism gets us nowhere.
Why Bother – There were fewer people participating this year. I could be wrong, but I felt like our annual meeting of hundreds of insurance professionals from around the country was down 10% to 15%. This is understandable since most of us are paying own way and all of the instability of the last year has taken a toll on us. Still, the huge ballroom at the Hyatt is normally SRO. What really got my attention were the empty halls of Congress. Our appointments are usually shoehorned in right after one group and just before another. That was not the case this year. One Congressman might still be meeting with us had he not had to leave, well over 30 minutes into our meeting, to cast a vote. The smaller numbers of groups meeting with members of Congress speaks to the general questions of how or why anything is getting done while this administration is in the White House.
News – A Columbus area friend is running for the Ohio House of Representatives. He held a fundraiser at the Dubliner, a famous Irish pub a few blocks from the hotel. I mentioned to a woman from Middleburg Heights that the Dubliner has served as the Washington home for Morning Joe. She made a face and made clear her disdain for all things MSNBC. I thought of my westside friend while in the office of one of our Ohio Republican Congressmen. His reception area had FOX News on the wall-mounted TV. His inner office was running MSNBC. With this administration, where the position du jour may be blurted out on live TV or a tweet, you have to be open to receiving your news from all possible sources.
Why Bother 2 – We record both small victories and minor setbacks each year. This year will be no different, but I have reason to be hopeful. For one, both the Congressmen and their aides had the time to conduct meaningful policy discussions. For another, the silliness and intellectual dishonesty of Repeal and Replace may have finally been laid to rest. Here are a couple of things that we discussed last week:
- COBRA as Medicare Credible Coverage – This is one of those down in the weeds issues that had no champions, only victims. COBRA doesn’t count as credible coverage. Senior who retain their COBRA coverage instead of enrolling in Medicare when they become eligible, are considered to be “late enrollees”, subject to a waiting period, and will pay a penalty for the rest of their lives! It is normally just a mistake. Retirees over 65 may not have access to good, free information. We can correct this. I am happy to announce that our efforts have been rewarded with the introduction this past week of H.R. 5104 – Medicare Enrollment Protection Act.
- Transitional Relief – With all of the confusion at Health and Human Services (HHS), it is not surprising that the Grandmothered health policies have fallen through the cracks. These policies were written and issued in 2010 after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed until the end of 2013 when the law was fully implemented. Many of us are dependent on our ability to retain these policies and wait nervously for the annual announcement. There aren’t any policies sold in Ohio that can match the network access of the Anthem, Medical Mutual, and Golden Rule Grandmothered contracts. Every Congressman and legislative aide quickly grasped the importance of granting transitional relief for these policies. Some even thought that this should be simply granted permanent status. As with so many other issues, this would disappear without our constant vigilance.
- Retain the employer tax exclusion – More than 175 million Americans get their health insurance at work. There were some proposals being floated to either cap the maximum amount of premium the employer could deduct or eliminate the deduction completely. Talk about destabilizing the market! There seemed to be little interest in overturning our markets in the offices I visited.
Politics in the Real World – The topic of Congressional Hearings came up during a conversation with a Republican Congressman. He brought it up, not me. He mentioned the lack of hearings as part of the overall failure of last year’s efforts to repeal Obamacare. He noted that “We’ve done nothing to bring the cost of health care down”. He had a real grasp of some of the nuts and bolts of the health care funding debate and expressed his regrets with the lack of tangible results. In many ways it mirrored the conversation I had with the Senior Legislative Assistant of a local Democratic member of Congress. I have met this particular aide several times and knew her to be a straight shooter. We discussed the anticipated November 2018 wave election. She expressed a sincere desire to not replicate the mistakes of this past year, to be inclusive, and to get things done. One party having significant majorities in the Senate, House, as well as the Presidency has been a shock to the system. The question is whether the ideologues will win out and the politics of Washington will careen wildly from one extreme to another or if the pragmatists from both sides of the aisle can regain control of the House and the Senate and return order, decorum, and respect to our institutions.
I was standing in a Senator’s office when President Trump announced on live TV an entirely new gun control policy. The staff didn’t even bother to look up knowing full well that he would reverse himself tomorrow. I get that. We’re all (un)comfortably numb.
Picture – There Had To Be A Moon Involved – David L Cunix
Picture – The Reverend Billy Graham – David L Cunix
Picture – Fighting The Crowd In The Hart – David L Cunix
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