What a curious — and for about 20 million Americans, a frightening — debate Republicans are having now about the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care law.
Republicans agree they want to abolish what they call Obamacare. For years, they’ve treated it as the Great Curse of the Western World, and they long ago forecast it would blow up the private insurance system — it didn’t — and that it would cause the federal deficit to skyrocket — it didn’t — and that it would be prohibitively expensive — it hasn’t been.
But President-elect Donald Trump never left a rally without vowing he’d repeal Obamacare on the first day he was in office. And Republicans in Congress have backed up that promise with their own. Tom Price, designated by Trump as the next secretary of Health and Human Services, has long advocated repeal of Obamacare as a congressman (and also likes the idea of privatizing Medicare).
Now, however, the reality of what Republicans in control of Congress and the White House can do appears to have even some of the GOP’s leaders shook up.
Consider Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He labels the fears of the 20 million people now reliant on Obamacare converage as “scare tactics” from Democrats.
“We can reassure the American public,” Brady said, “that the plan they are in right now, the Obamacare plans, will not end on Jan. 20.” He said his party “will provide an adequate transition period to give people peace of mind that they will have those options available to them as we work through this solution.”
The problem, of course, is that Republicans don’t have an alternative to “Obamacare,” and they know it. And with 20 million people dependent on that coverage, doing away with it is going to be a clumsy proposition.
Suggesting that those now on Obamacare can simply move to the private sector is not practical, as anyone with private insurance, or who has tried to get private insurance, knows. Those trying to get covered outside of employer-connected insurance know well the problems they faced pre-Obamacare: pre-existing conditions, wildly varying rates, prohibitive expense and limits on what was covered and ceilings on what might be covered.
Republicans always talk about the “free market,” but if it had worked so well, there never would have been a need for federal intervention –– and that intervention came, after all, with cooperation with the private insurance industry. Obamacare has worked, period, for a lot of people, and the doomsayers’ predictions of all the problems it would cause did not come to pass.