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Health care: How the Republican assault could backfire

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Charles Dharapak/AP

(Read caption) Three House Republicans – (from left) Steve King of Iowa, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Kline of Minnesota – testify on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 6 before the House Rules Committee. The committee was meeting to talk about floor debate on legislation that would repeal the health care overhaul bill.

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When it comes to health care, Republicans should be careful what they wish for.

Their upcoming vote to repeal the health-care law will be largely symbolic — they don’t have the votes to override President Obama’s certain veto. The real thing happens later, when they try to strip the Department of Health and Human Services of money needed to implement the law’s requirement that all Americans buy health insurance. This could easily precipitate a showdown with the White House—and a government shutdown later this year.

On its face it’s a smart strategy for the GOP. The individual mandate is the linchpin of the heath-care law because it spreads the risks. Without the participation of younger or healthier people, private insurers won’t be able to take on older or sicker customers with pre-existing medical conditions, or maintain coverage indefinitely for people who become seriously ill. The result would be to unravel the health-care law, which presumably is what many Republicans seek.

At the same time, the mandate is the least popular aspect of the law. According to a December 9-12 ABC/Washington Post survey, 60% of the public opposes the individual mandate. While they want help with their health-care bills, and over 60% want to prevent insurers from dropping coverage when customers become seriously ill, most Americans simply don’t like the idea of government requiring them to buy something. It not only offends libertarian sensibilities, but it also worries some moderates and liberals who fear private insurers will charge too much because of insufficient competition in the industry.

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