After GOP failure, the focus should turn to fixing Obamacare

Published 7:25 am Thursday, July 20, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

The effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act appears to be dead and good riddance. A deeply flawed scheme to cut taxes under the guise of reforming health care never gathered necessary Republican support and actually galvanized the American public into vocal opposition.

Email newsletter signup

The complexities of health care are difficult even for experts. Many Americans bought into false narratives that Obamacare was failing or imploding, even though that is far from true. It has struggled, yes, in part because half the Congress has been attempting to undermine it from its inception.

Despite that, the ACA’s achievements have been notable. Medical bills once were the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country. Those figures, although still too high, have plummeted since the ACA was signed in 2010.

Americans have become accustomed to knowing their policies will cover their adult children still in school or just starting out in the workforce; that their own health coverage will continue even if they change jobs and insurers, because they can no longer be priced out over pre-existing conditions. Substandard policies that take people’s money but fail to cover what’s wrong with them became a relic.

Americans have made it clear through their widespread rejection of the GOP effort that they have no desire to return to those days. What they want, in overwhelming numbers, is for lawmakers to set aside their endless point-scoring and work together on the fixes required of any major piece of legislation. The biggest challenge facing the ACA is bringing the cost curve down, which is critical in supplying the missing piece of health reform: affordability. Too much time has been wasted already in a fruitless effort to return to a crueller time when the healthy and wealthy benefited while others suffered.

Most disastrous of all would be President Donald Trump’s latest stance. Stymied in his attempt to wipe out every trace of his predecessor’s legacy, Trump now says he plans to simply “let Obamacare fail,” hoping to at last break Democrats’ will and drive them to a GOP version that has yet to be written.

That is contemptible and jaw-dropping in its irresponsibility. Health care constitutes about one-sixth of the massive U.S. economy. The instability triggered by wiping out the framework that now provides coverage for 20 million people would be unprecedented.

Despite years of complaining, and endless theatrical repeal votes, it is evident that Republicans were never truly prepared with an alternative plan. Well, no more betting on the come. If they couldn’t craft a replacement in the full flush of a Republican Congress and brand-new Republican president, they will not fool Americans into thinking all they need is two more years.

They must jettison the mind-set that last month led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to warn that if colleagues did not fall in line, they would have no choice but to sit down with Democrats. Working with the other side is not a threat; it is the goal, and voters should punish any politician of any party who forgets it. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that several bills already exist that could form the basis for a bipartisan approach, bring down the fast-rising price of pharmaceuticals and make the exchanges more affordable. “The day [Obamacare] passed, I said it was a beginning, not an end,” she said.

Get to work and fix health care. This country has hard discussions ahead about how to lower costs while preserving access. Americans can deal with the reality that any comprehensive, sustainable health reform worthy of the name must do both. They should settle for no less.