WASHINGTON — Arizona lawmakers split straight down party lines Wednesday as the House voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, less than two weeks after it was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents Rim Country now and is also fighting a tough primary battle in Rim Country’s new district, voted for the repeal saying “I was proud to cast my vote again today to repeal Obamacare. This law must go! The American people have said loud and clear time and time again that they do not support Obama’s disastrous health care takeover and burdensome tax increase ... Imposing Washington‘s dysfunction on the health care system will be devastating to patients and flatline our economy.”
Gosar is running against State Rep. Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) for the Republican nomination in the newly configured Congressional District 4, which includes northern Gila County, Prescott and much of western Arizona. Two Democrats are also contending for the nomination, but Republicans have such a lopsided advantage that the Republican primary will most likely decide the representation.
Gould also issued a strident statement calling for the repeal of the bundle of health care reforms that would provide nearly universal health care coverage by requiring people to buy insurance and providing subsidies for most low and middle-income Americans to make coverage affordable. The program would also expand the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) if the Legislature approves. AHCCCS already covers about 30 percent of Gila County residents, which has one of the highest share of uninsured residents in the state.
The Supreme Court recently upheld most of the key provisions of the federal health care reforms, but also ruled that states can opt out of key provisions — like the expansion of Medicaid (AHCCCS). That ruling only heightened the political struggle over the future of the reforms and prompted the party-line vote in Congress this week.
Only five Democrats — none from Arizona — crossed the aisle to join 239 Republicans voting to repeal “Obamacare,” while 185 Democrats voted against repeal. The vote was mirrored in Arizona’s delegation, where the five Republican members voted for repeal and the three Democrats voted against it.
Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, said Wednesday he was “proud” to have voted for repeal.
“Once full repeal is achieved, we can make effective, market-based reforms that will cut costs and increase access” to health care, Quayle said.
But chances for “full repeal” are dim, with the measure likely to be blocked in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The fact that the vote was largely symbolic — it’s the 33rd time the House has tried to repeal or defund health reform — was not lost on Democrats.
“My constituents want Congress to move forward with improvements to the law, not move backward with political games,” said Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Barber said the health reform act isn’t perfect, but that Congress “must not throw the baby out with the bath water.”
“The Affordable Care Act is flawed, but a major step forward in providing access to affordable and quality health care to all Americans,” his statement said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, long a supporter of the health care act, criticized Republicans in debate on the House floor Tuesday.
“Instead of bringing a jobs bill up or a fair taxation bill up to the floor, we will be taking away health care,” Grijalva said of the proposed repeal. “Americans want a jobs plan, not their health care taken away.”
But Republicans countered that they were the ones doing what is best for the American people with the repeal vote.
Gosar, a Flagstaff dentist who moved to Prescott to run in the new District 4 rather than face a rematch with Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick in District 1, said “As a health care provider, I know that the results of Obamacare on our system of health care and on the overall strength of our nation would be devastating,” said Gosar, a dentist. “We must repeal and replace this government takeover with a patient-centered, comprehensive plan which empowers consumers — not bureaucrats.”
That theme of replacing, and not just repealing, the act was echoed by other Republicans who said Congress should begin creating new health reform measures. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, urged Congress to “go several steps further than just repealing Obamacare.”
Flake is currently seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, but faces a fierce contest with Mesa businessman Wil Cardon. The winner of that contest will face former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, an emergency room surgeon and war hero, who has praised the expansion of coverage in the reforms, but criticized the lack of cost controls and lack of focus on improving preventive and primary care.
After voting to repeal the reforms this week, Flake said, “going forward, Congress must put in place a plan for health care that is empowered by the free market and grants Americans access to affordable care and control of their health care dollars.”