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EDITORIAL: Time to revise and repair
With the announcement Tuesday that several Republican senators wouldn’t go along with plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act absent a legitimate replacement, GOP efforts to erase so-called "Obamacare" seem to have gone down on strikes.
First, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to pull from consideration his initial bill after it failed to garner adequate support among his fellow Republicans. It wasn’t hard to see why: The bill, crafted in utter secrecy, would have left an estimated 22 million additional Americans uninsured while delivering huge tax breaks to the wealthiest of the nation’s wealthy.
A revised measure was unveiled late last week but it, too, failed to capture support among at least 50 of the Senate’s majority 52 Republicans (strike two).
GOP leaders including McConnell, President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence then urged movement on only the first half of the “repeal and replace” strategy: Repeal now, replace later.
They barely had time to float that trial balloon before it was shot down by a trio of Republican senators (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Susan Collins of Maine).
Thus, Republicans in Congress have finally come face to face with the reality that while “repeal and replace” was an effective political slogan, as a roadmap to legislation it went nowhere.
What should lawmakers do now?
Ignoring the president would be a good start. His bright idea: “Let Obamacare fail.”
Never mind the hundreds of thousands who will be unable to secure affordable health insurance — largely because of the massive uncertainty Trump and his party have manufactured over the past six months.
“I’m not going to own it,” Trump declared — meandering about as far from Harry “The Buck Stops Here” Truman as is presidentially possible.
Real leaders fix problems, they don’t bide their time to exploit them for political gain while allowing Americans to suffer.
And that’s what real leaders in Congress must now do. Despite its shortcomings, the Affordable Care Act is working: Some 20 million more Americans have coverage, insurance companies cannot refuse policies owing to pre-existing conditions, and young adults can stay on parents’ plans until age 26.
These benefits are part of the reason a majority of Americans now approve of the law.
With the clock ticking on a legislative session that has been astoundingly unproductive, here’s what lawmakers should consider:
- Make it clear to the insurance industry that no changes in current law will be made this year. The issue is too complicated, time is too short, and tensions are too high for there to be any likelihood of success in the coming weeks.
- At the same time, pledge that federal reimbursement to insurance companies covering low-income customers will continue. Trump has hinted at curtailing these payments. That’s not “letting Obamacare fail”; that’s pushing it (and, more importantly, low-income Americans who depend on it) off a cliff.
- Commit to a good-faith bipartisan effort to tackle the issue forthrightly. Compromise ought not to be a threat, as McConnell recently positioned it, but a starting place for real progress.
Alaska’s Murkowski as much as spelled out this agenda earlier this week: “The Senate should take a step back and engage in a bipartisan process to address the failures of the ACA and stabilize the individual markets.” Exactly.
Republicans, holding both houses of Congress and the White House, had a golden opportunity to crush the Affordable Care Act but swung and missed. Democrats are no doubt weary from playing defense on the issue for the past seven years. The path forward couldn’t be more clear.
“Repeal and replace” should itself be repealed and replaced. Lawmakers intent on honest improvement of the nation’s health care system must instead revise and repair.