House GOP Tacks Health Care Law Rollbacks Onto Payroll Tax Bill

December 13, 2011 11:20 am ET — Kate Conway

As the deadline for passing crucial end-of-the-year legislation approaches, congressional Republicans have shown no sign they're ready to get serious about crafting viable legislation. Instead, they persist in playing political games that render what are ostensibly 'compromise' bills untenable to Democrats.

Today, the House will vote on a GOP proposal to extend the payroll tax cut. Despite a promise in their "Pledge to America" to "end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with 'must-pass' legislation," House Republicans have attached provisions that would tamper with cost-saving measures in the Affordable Care Act. From the New York Times:

The bill would repeal and relax several provisions of the 2010 health care law that clamped down on doctor-owned hospitals. The bill would allow such hospitals to open if they were under construction at the end of last year, and it would allow them to expand if they were already in existence. ... Numerous studies have found that when doctors have a financial stake in a hospital, they tend to order more tests and procedures, raising costs for Medicare and other insurers. ... The provision of the House bill allowing the spread and expansion of doctor-owned hospitals would increase federal spending by $300 million over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said.

It's notable that the provision Republicans are going after in this case is not one that expands the rolls of the uninsured or helps set up a new program — it's one that's supposed to help cut back on rising health care costs.

According to Professor Jean Mitchell of Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute, doctor-owned hospitals are more likely to focus on making a profit by offering only the more lucrative procedures and by serving healthier patients. The president of the American Hospital Association says that leaves "community hospitals with the more acutely ill patients and those who are uninsured or have coverage through public programs."

The GOP has been focused on rolling back the provisions of the health care legislation since the law's passage in March of 2010. After failing on efforts to fully repeal the law and to deprive it of funding for implementation, they have resorted to chipping away at the landmark legislation by stapling undermining provisions onto important bills — exactly as they promised they wouldn't do.