At least 3.3 million people have already signed up for health insurance since the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opened in October. That number is growing rapidly, with 15,000 new enrollments in exchange plans a day in California alone.
And the Republican plan to deal with Obamacare generally remains what it has been since 2010 — repeal.
This means the millions of men, women and children covered under plans could either see their plans invalidated by insurance companies no longer required to cover pre-existing conditions or have their Medicaid coverage completely erased. Republicans who spent the last three months screaming about how terrible insurance cancelations are would have to explain what happens next for millions of uninsured Americans.
Repeal is a fantasy, a fundraising opportunity that all Republicans — except the few who take Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) seriously — know would never happen. And if it did, they would end up owning every aspect of a crumbling health care system the same way Democrats are currently responsible for every splinter in every tongue depressor.
The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent looks at recent polling and finds that though Americans are largely dissatisfied with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, they generally support the federal government’s taking a role in getting people affordable health insurance. More importantly, most are still willing to give the law a chance.
“Only 37 percent support repealing Obamacare entirely,” he writes, “while 53 percent say there are good things in the law and that changes are needed to make it work better.”
Republicans are now in what Sargent calls “The GOP Repeal Trap,” which essentially requires them to vow repeal and pray that somehow the law collapses on its own.
While it may seem absurd to those who care about governing, it makes perfect sense strategically because “replace” is an even bigger fantasy than repeal.
Until it became socialism incarnate, the ACA was the conservative reform to the health care system. So to replace it completely, conservatives would need to go further to the right and destroy the entire employer-provided health insurance paradigm that provides about 85 percent of working adults with their coverage.
That’s what the proposal John McCain ran for president on in 2008 would have done, canceling the insurance of about 20 million Americans, four times the number who had to find new coverage under Obamacare.
Are there conservative fixes that could be made to the ACA that Democrats would be willing to trade for reforms of their own?
Health economist Austin Frakt has listed more than a dozen possible conservative-leaning fixes for the law, starting with their all-time favorite, tort reform, which actually would do very little to lower health care costs but would be a huge win for the right in their never-ending war against trial lawyers.
So why doesn’t some brave Republican — say Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) — step forward with a set of conservative reforms to the ACA?
The answer is easy: Republican primaries.
Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land suggested that the law would be fixed and was forced to flip-flop on that position in less than 24 hours, likely in fear that she might end up with a Tea Party challenger. Georgia Senate candidate Rep. Jack Kingston did nearly the exact same thing.
Christie is already saddled with being the only 2016 GOP frontrunner who accepted Medicaid expansion. If he became the face of fixing Obamacare, he would be appealing to the majority of voters but antagonizing if not actually declaring war on those in the base who refuse to accept that Obamacare is here to stay, and also refuse to consider any candidate who tells them what they do not want to hear. (Even if the governor could win the primary backed by the business and more independent wings of his party, he could end up inspiring a Tea Partier to run as a third-party candidate, virtually guaranteeing a Democratic victory in 2016.)
For the foreseeable future, Republican candidates — even those in states and districts President Obama won — are stuck running in the general election with the “problematic” stand of wanting to take health insurance from millions, some of whom may actually show up to vote.
And if they win, they can return to blaming President Obama for never making their repeal fantasy come true. It’s the only safe move.
Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr