The following exchange occurred during an interview of President Trump with journalists of the NYT:
HABERMAN: That’s been the thing for four years. When you win an entitlement, you can’t take it back.
TRUMP: But what it does, Maggie, it means it gets tougher and tougher. As they get something, it gets tougher. Because politically, you can’t give it away. So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.
Senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran said yesterday that they would not vote for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, effectively killing the legislation. As anybody who has been following this story would have predicted, President Trump reacted publicly on Twitter on Tuesday morning, vowing to let the ACA marketplace collapse and then rewrite the plan later.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell attempted a quick punt this morning, calling for an immediate Senate vote on the House bill, a trick card that if it worked, would give Republicans two years to work things out.
Unfortunately for McConnell, it probably won’t.
The White House sees the failure as saying more about the political establishment in Washington than itself, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. Caught up in the drama of the Watergate-Russia emails-Trump family narrative, major media outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times see a historic defeat rather than a temporary setback. That may or may not turn out to be true. Predictably, conservative commentators and the alt-right believe the defeat says more about the mainstream media and the Deep State than it does about the Trump Presidency. For their part, Democrats clearly think they have found their issue and can be expected to continue to exploit it using legislative Viet Cong tactics (attack on social media, melt into the jungle, lob snarky public Molotov cocktails) to punish Republicans and keep the story on the front page.
One thing is clear. Instead of repealing and replacing Obamacare, the GOP now has to rewrite and replace its own plan. Doing that would be difficult under the best of circumstances, but in the current climate in Washington it is difficult to see how it would be possible without a major shift in the political landscape.
All of this is bad news for hospitals and health plans and a frightening development for consumers, although not the really bad news some had feared. The President’s threat to let the insurance marketplace die and then “figure it out” sounds good as a rallying cry to the troops on social media, but is not the kind of thing that investors and CEOs like to hear. Realistically though, at this point everybody knew that the uncertainty would likely continue through the year (best case) or a year or longer (worst case) as the gridlock in Washington plays out. As depressing and frustrating as it is that the uncertainty will continue, by this point the industry is used to it. Insiders will continue to look for ways to minimize risk and for business opportunities to capitalize on the uncertainty.
Trump’s plan to allow the insurance exchanges to collapse is the kind of confrontational talk Trump and his advisors relish. In theory, the idea could work. There are in fact signs that it already is, as major insurers leave the marketplace and consumers hesitate before committing to expensive insurance policies. In reality, however, the collapsing exchanges will create a political crisis that is even worse than the current one for the administration, with news cycle after news cycle dominated by stories of terminally ill cancer patients and parents with children with horrible diseases and no insurance coverage. At this point, it will be difficult for the party doing the collapsing to point at the other side and say “It was them. They did it!”
The American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare or Ryancare) failed because it was patched together and would have imperiled insurance benefits for millions of the neediest Americans. Two other health care related bills – the Protecting Access to Care Act and the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act – have made it out of the U.S. House and are currently pending in the U.S. Senate. If passed they will produce the same abysmal result. Like the American Health Care Act, they should be rejected.
Protection and fairness? How could anyone be against that? Unfortunately, the titles hide the motive of these bills: maybe cost savings and damn the public good. These bills appear to have been written by lobbyists to protect corporate bottom lines. Both bills will add to the substantial roadblocks injured patients already face in attempting to vindicate their rights against powerful entities and corporations in the legal system.
The Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215) is being touted as a way to control the cost of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. The Act would limit medical malpractice victims’ ability to have their day in court by making certain providers immune from lawsuits and imposing strict caps on damages for victims of medical malpractice regardless of the degree of injury or the extent of negligence involved. Some variation of this bill has been floating around Republican circles for decades. There is no question this bill would likely reduce costs for medical providers and insurance companies, but there is every reason to believe it will do so by harming ordinary Americans.
The world is not going to end. We witnessed a revolution earlier this week. The people have spoken and they chose the anti-establishment, street smart, government shrinking candidate who bucks the status quo. We find ourselves in uncharted territory, with an unpredictable President-elect, who has unclear plans for healthcare. Here is what we do know. Mr. Trump is a successful entrepreneur. Forbes describes the entrepreneurship pathway as having no clear story line, but a “sense of chaos, hectic decision making, and moments of great fear and doubt.” Improving our broken healthcare system will involve decision making in the face of great uncertainty. Mr. Trump has a well-developed tolerance for this sort of ambiguity and is likely the right man for the job.
Mr. Trump won over the white working-class individuals in small rural areas. Sluggish economic recovery in these areas played a significant role in his unanticipated victory. It is these disenchanted individuals watching the American Dream slip through their fingers who voted for Mr. Trump. Those same people want the freedom to buy the insurance they need, and not what the bloated government shoves down their throats. 25% of the population lives in rural areas yet only 10% of the physicians practice in there. Physicians are leaving the system in droves, closing their patient panels, and not keeping up with demand, thereby threatening patient access in these isolated locales.
I hate to interrupt the festivities, but I have a few questions. There are one or two little unknowns here. The answers to these questions are matters of life and death to many in the industry, literal life and death to many thousands of patients, organizational life and death to thousands of companies, hospitals and systems.
Tuesday’s extraordinary events obviously present an enormous challenge for anyone who wants to think about the future of healthcare. The challenge is far more than simply trying to imagine the healthcare industry without Obamacare, or under whatever Trumpcare will turn out to be. A much more powerful effect will be come into play far earlier: the uncertainty over that future will have reshape the industry before we even get to the actual “repeal and replace” part.
It is possible that in a few months from now, only Nate Silver’s prediction models will stand between Donald Trump and the White House. I will leave it to future anthropologists to write about the significance of that moment. For now, the question “What will President Trump be doing when he is not building a wall?” has assumed salience.
This is relatively easy to answer when it comes to health policy. Just ask what people want. Seniors don’t want Medicare rescinded. Even the free market fundamentalist group, the Tea Party, wants Medicare benefits as they stand. At one of their demonstrations against Obamacare a protester warned, without leaving a trace of irony, “Government, hands off my Medicare.”
Rest assured, Trump will protect Medicare. Even raising the eligibility age for Medicare may be off the cards as far as he is concerned. He has promised that no one will be left dying on the streets. That people no longer die on the streets, but in hospitals, because emergency rooms must treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, is irrelevant. The point is that Mr. Trump knows that the public values their healthcare. Trumpcare will show that Trump cares.