Democrats saved Obamacare from the Republicans but will not be able to save it from itself. The health plan is so badly misconceived that it will now become ever more distorted until finally it just won’t be there. In the meantime, it will continue to do ruinous damage to the budget and economy. The Democrats will blame the Republicans, and the press just might let them get away with it.
The Republicans, whose House leadership has given up the ghost on repeal and replacement, had failed over the years to develop a viable, alternate plan, it is said. That’s not entirely true. There were many plans but little agreement within a party more diverse than critics admit. It is true the GOP came together when passing repeal bills during the Obama years, obviously confident that vetoes would let them off the hook of something unworkable coming up.
This time around, House Speaker Paul Ryan had a plan that was in many ways reasonable although it needed renovations that could have come through Senate amendments and compromise the Democrats disallowed. Because the Democrats would have offered up a legislation-stopping filibuster for any ordinary bill, House Republicans stuck to so-called reconciliation legislation that was focused on budgetary issues. A majority vote is enough to act on and pass reconciliation legislation, but this approach offers far less opportunity to delve into non-budgetary issues.
So now we are left with Obamacare with all its misconceptions and absurdities intact. This act essentially redefined insurance in such a way that it was not insurance anymore. Instead of guaranteeing compensation for unforeseen health mishaps through premiums adjusted by risk, insurance was now a system of paying for health bills after the mishaps had already occurred with the people most at risk often paying the least money. It was as if you could buy fire insurance after your house had already burned down, or to use another comparison, as if a life insurance company charged sick people at age 89 less than healthy people at age 21.
The intentions were good – insurance for one and all that covered every conceivable ailment – but the consequences were a path to hell. To pay for those at high risk, those at small risk had to fork up big bucks through penalties they would otherwise suffer. It did not work well, and insurance firms kept raising premiums and deductibles to the point of people paying more than they could afford with the prospect of getting nothing back. Many decided the penalties were more comfortable, and major health insurance companies dropped out of the program.
Meanwhile there were governmental subsidies left and right requiring taxes right and left along with budget deficits worsening the possibilities of a debt crisis. A favorite leftist solution was to convert to a single-payer system, which is to say, government would foot far more of the bill. Our threatening entitlement conglomeration would then reach a point where possibilities of a debt crisis would be converted into probabilities of a debt crisis, maybe even assurance of a debt crisis.
So here we are with a Republican plan down in the dirt and smiles on the faces of Democrats because they had salvaged a disaster of their making that at the moment is in fact doing good for large numbers of people. That’s temporarily the blessing of all kinds of ill-conceived governmental solutions that then turn sour and require ever more hurt to supposedly stop the hurt.
Maybe, a few months down the road, Republicans will aim for a real legislative solution again, but maybe that will meet the same fate of disagreement and Democratic blockades. Maybe we will later see Obamacare combustion with millions of the once-insured uninsured and spending of a calamitous sort. Perhaps the Republicans will be held responsible, leading to Democratic victories at the polls and worse calamity. We will see.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at email@example.com.