Republican lawmakers in Washington failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. When the American people demanded a fix in the ACA’s flaws, they failed in that effort as well. In my opinion that failure was inevitable. Why?
For years the GOP cared only about repealing the so-called Obamacare. Some Republicans on the Hill were ideologically opposed to any federal intervention in the problem of spiraling health care costs that were bringing financial ruin to so many Americans. But for GOP leadership it was political; it was far more important to ensure the Obama administration failed than to fix a problem causing financial ruin to millions of their constituents.
For the better part of seven years, Republican lawmakers presented innumerable bills to repeal the ACA, knowing full well that Obama would veto them. This was nothing more than playing to the GOP primary base. Once they had a Republican in the White House, Republican Senators and Congressmen could easily repeal it.
The problem arose because the American people realized what the GOP had to offer would not improve their lot. All of a sudden, Republicans in Washington were forced to come up with a replacement that would fix the flaws in Obamacare. They couldn’t for a number of reasons.
First, the Republicans were not on board with the American people’s desire for universal health care. They instead marketed the freedom to choose whether or not you buy insurance, which would not only fail to fix the costs of health care or the availability of coverage, it would make the problem worse.
This revealed a lack of understanding many lawmakers had of how insurance works. If healthy people do not protect themselves from future medical problems with health insurance, everyone else’s premiums will skyrocket.
Secondly, many far-right Congressmen in extremely safe districts still held fast to the idea that repeal and no replacement was ideal, because they want no government involved in finding a solution. Case in point is Rand Paul, who opposed every GOP bill until the so-called skinny repeal was offered. It was apparent to anyone with a modicum of understanding of health care insurance that such a law would be an utter failure and nothing more than forcing the implosion of the ACA.
Then too many lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, were less interested in health care solutions than in drastically cutting Medicaid or giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Republican donors. If you think I am wrong, look back at Ryan’s initial offering for repeal and replace. It was a boon to the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class.
It was never inevitable that we would find ourselves in this chaos. The Heritage Foundation, a bulwark of conservatism, proposed a health care suggestion in 1989 that looked remarkably similar to the ACA. Yet, because Obama and the Democrats proposed the bill, no Republican on the Hill would support the ACA. That is a shame, because now it is imperative for Republicans to bring in the Democrats to work alongside them to save face.
Step 1 is for lawmakers to understand what the average American is facing. That may be hard for wealthy legislators who receive the very socialized medicine they claim to oppose. They must understand that promoting the general welfare of the citizenry is a constitutional justification for the ACA. They must form a consensus on what to accomplish. Is it universal coverage? Controlling the ever-rising costs? Protecting the insurance industry?
Whatever the priority, partisan victory cannot be in the equation.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.