Key Senate Republican Says Obamacare Beneficiaries Are 'On The Dole'

Tough love for people who need insurance, big tax breaks for millionaires.

A top Republican senator says repealing the Affordable Care Act is essential in order to keep too many people from going “on the dole.”

He might want to take a closer look at who these people are and what their lives are really like.

Following a Capitol Hill meeting of GOP senators working on health care legislation, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) got a question about public opinion on repeal ― specifically, widespread opposition to the American Health Care Act, the bill that the House of Representatives passed last week and that would, if enacted, deprive 24 million people of coverage, according to government estimates.

Here was Hatch’s response, via a report on CNN:

The public wants every dime they can be given. Let’s face it, once you get them on the dole, they’ll take every dime they can. We’ve got to find some way of getting things under control or this country and your future is going to be gone.

It’s certainly true that public benefits, once established, are popular and difficult to take away. That is one reason Republicans like Hatch, who is now chairman of the Senate finance committee, fought so hard to block and then undermine “Obamacare” in the first place.

But is it fair to describe Affordable Care beneficiaries as “on the dole”?

Roughly 10.1 million of them are people who buy insurance through the law’s exchanges and qualify for tax credits that discount their premiums. These are people with household incomes above and sometimes well above the poverty line. Although there’s no hard data on how many have jobs, it’s safe to assume the vast majority do, because otherwise they wouldn’t have enough income to qualify.

The other big group of Affordable Care Act beneficiaries are those who qualify for Medicaid, the program that traditionally provided insurance only to pregnant women, the disabled, and other narrowly defined groups of people. Today, using funds that the 2010 health care law made available, 32 states plus the District of Columbia have opened the program to anybody in a household with an income up to 133 percent of the poverty line ― $16,240 a year for an individual, or $27,159 for a family of three.

Something like 11.1 million Americans have gotten insurance as a result of the expansion, although estimates vary. They are probably the ones Hatch had foremost in mind, since many people think of Medicaid as a “welfare” program, with all of the usual stigmas they associate with it.

But among able-bodied adults on the program, “nearly 8 in 10 live in working families, and a majority are working themselves,” according to an analysis of census data from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. That finding is consistent with other research, including one analysis published in Health Affairs focusing exclusively on the expansion population that found “only 13 percent of adults covered by Medicaid’s expansion are able-bodied and not working, in school, or seeking work.”

Even most supporters of the Affordable Care Act would concede that there are people who really do fit the stereotype ― able-bodied adults who could be working, are not, yet get basically free medical care thanks to Medicaid. But the data suggests that, for every one of those people, there are many more like Claire and Allen Secrist of Durham, North Carolina, and their daughter Holly.

Claire works part-time while studying for a degree in library science; Allen lost his job two years ago and juggled part-time work until finding a permanent position at Starbucks. Without the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, they couldn’t have paid for comprehensive coverage. And they needed that kind of coverage, because all three of them have chronic conditions that require constant testing and treatment.

“We simply wouldn’t be able to maintain our current level of decent health” without that coverage, Claire told HuffPost when describing her situation a few months ago. “We would likely try to get some care ― like vaccinations ― at community health centers. But otherwise, I guess we would just be in a lot of trouble.”

Hatch, like most Republicans, frequently makes other arguments for repeal. He is, for example, a loud advocate for rescinding the taxes that finance the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion.

Those taxes consist primarily of levies on corporations and new payroll taxes that fall exclusively on the very wealthiest Americans. In fact, rescinding them would give the richest 400 households in the country an average tax break of $7 million each, according to analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“All of the Obamacare taxes need to go as part of the repeal process,” Hatch said in February.