Lazarus: GOP will stop at nothing to deny Obama his due on healthcare reform

"This reform is here for a while," said Dana Goldman, director of USC's Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. "It's not like we get only one shot at getting it right."

But critics seized on these latest delays as proof of the Affordable Care Act's complete inadequacy. "This law is a disaster," declared Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health policy at George Washington University, said it's baffling that opponents of healthcare reform have framed their criticism in the most ridiculous terms.

"I'm at a loss to understand the extraordinary rhetoric surrounding the Affordable Care Act," she said.

Rosenbaum was also struck by the cruel irony of people with government-provided health insurance arguing against a law that would help extend coverage to millions of people who lack coverage.

"Ted Cruz has insurance," she said. "Michele Bachmann has insurance. To have this coming from relatively affluent, well-insured people is beyond the pale when there are so many people who aren't as fortunate as they are."

The billionaire Koch brothers are undoubtedly well-insured. Yet they've funded ads that attempt to persuade uninsured young people not to sign up for coverage through the new exchanges.

One ad shows a scary-looking Uncle Sam preparing to give a young woman a gynecological exam. Another shows Uncle Sam preparing to give a young man a rectal exam. "Don't let government play doctor," the ads say. "Opt out of Obamacare."

There's a method to the madness: If enough healthy young people opt out of the reform law, insurance rates would become unaffordably high for those who participate in the system. This is, in other words, a deliberate attempt by conservatives to sabotage healthcare reform.

"There's nothing constructive about this," said John Petrila, chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of South Florida. "It's as if there's no empathy for people who get sick."

Because this debate isn't about sick people. Nor is it about healthcare, or even the role of government.

It's about denying Barack Obama a legacy as the president who succeeded in tackling our shamefully dysfunctional healthcare system.

That was the conclusion reached by every expert I spoke with. They pointed out that many of the ideas in the Affordable Care Act originated with the Nixon administration and the conservative Heritage Foundation. And it's not as if Republicans are ideologically opposed to fixing the healthcare system.

"They're just determined to prevent Obama from getting credit for it like Roosevelt got credit for Social Security," said Robert Field, a professor of health law at Drexel University. "There are some in the Republican Party who will burn down the healthcare system and the economy before they let this happen."

It would be funny.

If it weren't so crazy.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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