Aspen Institute hosts impromptu Spotlight Health panel on Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision |

Aspen Institute hosts impromptu Spotlight Health panel on Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times
From left, Henry Waxman, Tom Daschle, Nancy-Ann DeParle, Bill Frist, Kathleen Sebelius and moderator Steve Clemons.
Lauren Glendenning/The Aspen Times |

With Thursday’s Supreme Court decision affirming the legality of a part of the Affordable Care Act, The Aspen Institute’s Spotlight Health series hosted an impromptu panel discussion with some heavy political hitters Friday morning at its Aspen campus.

Bill Frist, Henry Waxman, Kathleen Sebelius, Nancy-Ann DeParle and Tom Daschle discussed the significance of Thursday’s decision while also weighing what’s in store for the future of American health care.

Because the Affordable Care Act was such a partisan piece of legislation, it continues to become increasingly partisan over time, said former Senate Majority Leader Frist, the only Republican on the panel.

“The opportunity to fix anything or modify it was removed totally because of the way this passed,” he said. “Because there was no Republican at the table at all. You can always buy somebody from the other side. I shouldn’t say that. … Medicare was not passed this way. Medicaid was not. Social Security was not. Welfare reform was not. Obamacare was.”

When asked what her one regret about the legislation is, DeParle — who was deputy chief of staff for policy in the Obama administration and served as the director of the White House Office of Health Reform during the passing of the Affordable Care Act — said the one thing she would change would have been to have Republican support for the bill. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying, she said.

“We did everything we could,” she said.

Sebelius, who was United States secretary of health and human services from 2009 to 2014, said after everything had been tried to work across the aisle, the president finally had to make the call whether to push forward.

Former Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle predicts more political maneuvering before the 2016 presidential election. He expects pressure from the far right could push Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule at least one more repeal vote. That would help keep their base energized, Daschle said.

Daschle said that approach would be a mistake, though.

“I think what the American people really want to see is Congress working together,” he said.

Waxman, a 30-year Congressman from California who retired earlier this year, said Thursday’s decision was actually good news for even the anti-Obamacare Republicans.

“The Republicans dodged a bullet yesterday,” he said. “In those red states, they would have had to figure out what to do with the middle class who now had health insurance.”

His statement echoed national news stories Friday that referenced a Republican sigh of relief at the decision — Republicans who would have had to figure out how to insure the 6.4 million Americans who could have been left with unaffordable insurance had the justices ruled differently.

That being said, Waxman said he’s encouraged by what he sees in Congress — a move toward more bipartisanship in the health arena. But before the 2016 elections, he hopes both sides can examine the reality of the Affordable Care Act, “not the propaganda.”

When Congress passed Medicare, there was a provision in it that said the law wasn’t intended to change the way medicine was practiced, Waxman said.

“Now look at where we are. The Affordable Care Act was intended to change the practice of medicine in this country,” he said. “We’re living in a very exciting time.”