Kansas Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo has a problem. The program he'd like to use to help solve the healthcare crisis in America is ... part of Obamacare already.
Though his party has made opposition to the healthcare law their defining issue, the Affordable Care Act is full of Republicans' ideas, from the individual mandate to state-based exchanges to the unnecessary exclusion of congressional staff from the ordinary federal insurance marketplace.
The law also includes billions to expand and operate federal health centers, a program that has traditionally enjoyed years of Republican support. President George W. Bush called loudly for boosting such centers. Though Bush doubled spending “from $1.34 billion for FY 2002 to $2.1 billion in FY 2008,” Obamacare invests another $11 billion. Federal health centers typically provide comprehensive services — from primary to specialty care, including dental and mental health — regardless of their patients' ability to pay.
(Since health centers are funded by the discretionary budget, the shutdown has acutely impacted health centers more than any other aspect of health reform. The National Association of Health Centers also reports that the sequester alone threatens care for 900,000 patients.)
For Pompeo, an ardent opponent of Obamacare, the congressman has gone on record stating that health centers are the best solution for caring for people who cannot afford health insurance. At a town hall last year, he pointed to GraceMed and Hunter Health Clinic, two centers in his district, as examples of the right path for reform.
It's not clear if the congressman has ever acknowledged that the two clinics received substantial funding from the law he would like to repeal. Hunter Health Clinic received $1.67 million and GraceMed $525,000 from the Affordable Care Act.
On Capitol Hill last week, we caught up with Pompeo after a vote to ask him if he supports repealing even ACA money for health centers. The conversation was about as productive as the last two weeks of congressional CR negotiations.
Asked if he supports the health reform money already going towards health centers, Pompeo replied, “I've supported the community health centers very consistently, I've been out there, they're great people. Have you been out there? Have you been to GraceMed in Wichita?”
After telling him I had not, but would be happy to travel there, I asked again. “I've said I support community health centers. We need to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. It's a disastrous piece of legislation,” Pompeo replied.
After more prodding, Pompeo reiterated his stance, telling us: “I support the community health centers. The Affordable Care Act doesn't make sense. It's going to bankrupt America. It's gonna be a really bad outcome.”
So health centers are great, but money for them is going to bankrupt America?
Although Pompeo's reasoning may be difficult to follow, his approach is not unique.
As I've reported, many Republican lawmakers have attempted to repeal Obamacare with one hand while asking for health reform cash with the other. Freedom of Information Act requests revealed letters from lawmakers — including Paul Ryan, Hal Rogers, and Jeff Denham, among others — asking the administration to approve ACA grants, in some cases health center funding, for their constituents.
Some have been brazen enough to use health reform funding announcements as props to gain friendly media attention. Congressman Michael Grimm has presented jumbo-sized check to announce an ACA grant in his district. Senator Jerry Moran posed at the groundbreaking ceremony for an ACA-funded clinic in his state.
This post first appeared at The Nation and is reposted here with permission.
Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, now known as Type Investigations, now known as Type Investigations.