Brian Mark Weber / March 29, 2019

Another Pivot to Health Care

Americans care a lot more about health insurance than Robert Mueller’s report.

Now that the Russian collusion hoax is out of the way, some Republicans are shifting their focus to health care. Just this week, the Justice Department asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn ObamaCare, just months after a U.S. District Court ruled the law unconstitutional. And in what might turn out to be a case of over-promising and under-delivering, President Donald Trump enthusiastically claimed that “the Republican Party will soon become the party of health care.” (Try as they might, Republicans will never be able to give away more free stuff than Democrats.)

Still, the unexpected move has Democrats scurrying around Capitol Hill in a frenzy to develop a message and a strategy. Cable news networks, consequently, have gone from round-the-clock coverage of the collusion conspiracy to nonstop accusations that Republicans are heartlessly taking away health care from Americans. Why, it’s as if CNN and the rest of the Leftmedia were colluding with Nancy Pelosi.

Some Republicans, too, claimed to be caught off guard by the president’s health care push. But it’s a shame that any Republican would claim to be surprised. Health care should have been on the party’s radar all along. After all, the far-reaching tentacles of ObamaCare are now affecting many areas of American life and business. Where have these so-called leaders been over the past nine years of government-run health care? Sadly, once Democrats get hold of a major issue, too many Republicans give up.

As expected, Democrats weren’t the only ones to criticize the president. One of Trump’s in-house critics is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Axios reports, “McCarthy told Trump over the phone that the decision made no sense — especially after Democrats killed Republicans in the midterms in part over the issue of pre-existing conditions, according to two sources familiar with their recent conversation. As Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur points out — health care was the top issue for 2018 midterm voters, and voters who cared most about health care favored Democrats over Republicans by more than 50 percentage points.”

Privately, other Republicans are worried that the president deflated the great news of Robert Mueller’s report by immediately talking about a losing issue for Republicans. Making matters more complicated is that Republicans have never been united on health care. Proclaiming the Republican Party will be the party of health care is a bold statement when the party doesn’t have a plan — after they’ve had more than a decade to come up with one.

Moreover, when Republicans repealed the individual mandate in 2017, they proclaimed that ObamaCare couldn’t survive without it. It has survived, though — and with each passing year, it’s getting harder to replace.

Indeed, even Trump’s attempt to allow “association plans” — a provision to allow small businesses to band together and purchase insurance outside the restrictions of ObamaCare — was struck down by a federal judge Thursday. U.S. District Judge John Bates, an appointee of George W. Bush, called the effort “clearly an end-run around” ObamaCare.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear write at The New York Times, “In the nine years since it was signed by President Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act has become deeply ingrained in the nation’s health care system. It revamped the way Medicare pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. It unleashed innovation in the delivery of health care. Since its passage, the health insurance industry has invented a new business model selling coverage to anyone who applies, regardless of any pre-existing conditions. The law also includes dozens of other less known provisions. Chain restaurants are now required to print nutrition labeling and calorie counts on standard menu items.” They add that ObamaCare has nudged employers into providing break time, created spaces for nursing mothers, and changed the way that prescription drugs are administered in the Medicare program.

But don’t let the media sugarcoat government-run health care. Those changes have nothing to do with “unleashing innovation.”

There are still real problems with ObamaCare, including soaring premiums and deductibles, and an ever-shrinking pool of networks and doctors. Republicans can address and fix these problems if they can get their collective act together. One plan is called The Health Care Choices Proposal, which would give block grants to states who could then explore less expensive and more easily managed health plans. Giving federalism a chance is a good way to start.

And we’ve already made some progress. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board concludes, “The Administration has written new rules that allow highly affordable short-term health insurance, as well as association health plans that offer group insurance across different risk pools than a single employer or the ObamaCare exchanges. The GOP can build on that base to offer a new campaign vision to take to voters.”

Democrats, for their part, aren’t waiting. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already unveiled a new health care initiative that builds on ObamaCare by expanding its reach, increasing spending, and giving the federal government more complete control of our health care.

For now, credit goes to President Trump for getting Republicans to start talking about health care again. The president’s strategy does make sense, but it’s risky. He’s hoping that a center-right Supreme Court might strike down ObamaCare and open the door for Republicans to swoop in just in time for the 2020 elections. But this requires the GOP to come up with a solid, sensible, and sellable plan in a little more than a year.

Let’s see if they can get it done this time.

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