Repeal and replace. Simple enough on the campaign trail. We heard this promise in 2010, when voters gave the House to Republicans. We heard it again in 2012, when voters gave them the Senate. Despite controlling Congress, Obamacare remained the law of the land. Candidate Donald Trump, along with most Republican members of Congress, promised repeal and replace last year.
Republicans now have their largest electoral majority in nearly a century, and repeal and replace is spinning its wheels, like an old Pontiac stuck in the snow.
Some think a grand bill is still possible, particularly Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Others are skeptical. Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee favor a two-pronged approach: repeal first then repeal later. Herein lies the problem. Republicans can’t agree on anything.
Democrats had no such problem in 2010 when they passed Obamacare. The Bernie coalition didn’t get a single-payer plan as they wanted. Some wanted higher Medicaid reimbursement for their states, as in the “Cornhusker Kickback.” But they came together and passed Obamacare, each Democrat getting most but not all of what he wanted.
Jim was at his desk, looking weary.
The last few weeks had been brutal. Despite working twelve-hour days, he felt that he had little to show for it. His annual board meeting was to take place the next day, and he expected it to be tense.
With a replacement bill for the ACA about to be voted on, and with Trump in the White House, the situation seemed particularly precarious. The board members had asked him to present a contingency plan, in case things in DC didn’t go well.
As CEO of a major health insurance company, Jim was well aware that business as usual had become unsustainable in his line of work. No matter what insurers had tried to do in the last few years—imposing onerous rules, setting high deductibles, pushing for government subsidies—prices had been going up and up.
Premiums, of course, had had to do the same but, evidently, the limit had now been reached. The horror stories being told at town hall meetings across the country were all too real. People were fed up, and politicians were feeling the heat.
Something needed to be done to change course, but what? He did not have any good plan to propose to the board.
You may have heard that repealing and replacing Obamacare recently failed. The analysis of what went wrong comes from many corners. Andy Slavitt, former insurance executive and most recent director of CMS, writes that the ‘failure of Trumpcare can be seen as a rejection of policies that Americans judged would move the country backward.’ Apparently, the theory goes, moderate republicans, especially in states that expanded heavily and rely on Obamacare Medicaid expansion, were skittish of a repeal and replace plan that endangered the healthcare of millions of constituents. The conservative David Frum writes in the Atlantic that most Democrats and Republicans have accepted the concept of universal health care coverage – and that the idea of a repeal of the right to healthcare is sheer anathema. And if the Republicans were wavering, town halls filled with angry constituents were sure to provide an extra dollop of pressure.
The effort to get the messaging right is clearly important to many, but I find most of it functions as a smoke screen seeking to obscure the real battles being fought over your healthcare.
It is certainly true that Obamacare insures millions of Americans. But it is also true that having health insurance and having health care are two very different things. To be clear, the folks attempting to preserve the status quo want to preserve the ability to force all Americans to buy health insurance that costs hundreds of dollars per month. Put another way, the folks attempting to preserve the status quo want to force Americans to give a monthly fee to health insurance companies. Remember, these plans have deductibles so high that most of the cost of care delivered during the year in the form of labs, copays, and imaging studies falls on the hapless patient. The insurer, for the average healthy person, doesn’t pay a dime.
I’ll dive right in, with the stipulation that this blog is initial reaction in a very fluid, unprecedented and soon-to-be even-more-intense political environment. Fasten your seat belts!
The ACA. Replace is the critical word in “repeal and replace.” Consensus is already emerging that Trump and the Republicans will indeed repeal the ACA in early 2017, via the reconciliation process Congress used earlier this year. That resulted in the Senate’s first an only full ACA repeal vote. Obama vetoed the bill, of course. But Republicans demonstrated the do-ability of the reconciliation process. Lacking 60 votes in the Senate, they’ll very likely try repeal again that way.Continue reading…