It's time to take sides about Obamacare's future

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

It is a journalist's job to be cynical at times. OK, many times. Oh, all right, most times.

Well, sometimes journalists aren't cynical. But there's a good reason for all the skepticism.

What sets proper journalism apart from, say, the telephone book is the former is filtered for quicker and better comprehension. Journalism doesn't, and can't, take given statements and positions at face value. If this weren't true, we'd all be reading public relations brochures or taking spin doctors' words as gospel truth.

When politics becomes involved, some of the strongest filtering is needed. That holds true, regardless of party affiliation or personal allegiance. People lie. Sometimes there are simply slip-ups or vague non-statements. Often, there's truth-stretching.

Then there's the category called “diplomatic prudence.” Take, for example, long-term care's lobbying arms. Heading into any election, the top lobbyists and association officials will emphasize they have to play nice with both sides of the political aisle. So they often will issue statements that take no real position.

They can't, and don't usually, campaign for one candidate over another. It's just prudent with so much at stake. Also, checks and balances, theoretically at least, exist at all levels of government. Today's foe could be tomorrow's needed friend.

That's why I found Tuesday's statements from the American Health Care Association and LeadingAge on House Republicans' plan to repeal and replace Obamacare so striking. There was no walking a tightrope or mealy-mouthed ambiguity in them.

AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson came right out and said how disappointing the bill is for long-term care providers. LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan was even more pointed, calling the proposal "the wrong policy at the wrong time," adding that it would “fundamentally destroy the Medicaid program as we know it."

By including Medicaid cuts, GOP lawmakers are proposing bloodletting the main source of payment for nursing home operators.

Or should I say further bloodletting? It's a system that's already hemorrhaging  — it underfunds nursing centers by an average of nearly $23 per resident day, according to Parkinson's analysts. And it's going to get worse?

What typically happens with political movements like this is, Uncle Sam takes away with one hand and restores at least a little bit with the other. So don't believe that a full $7 billion will exit the pay stream. Lobbyists will help determine how far back to center this proposal is pushed.

But there needs to be some sort of compromise. Even cynics realize this. Maybe the Congressional Budget Office will get to enter the picture and project costs for Monday's proposal. That is standard and customary, and an essential reason the CBO exists.

But these are anything but standard and customary times. If nothing else, it's prime time for cynics to keep busy.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.