The House GOP’s futile, poorly timed efforts to gut Obamacare

Updated
 
Guess whose heath care premiums are poised to drop considerably?
Guess whose heath care premiums are poised to drop considerably?
Associated Press

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) timing could be better. Hoping to capitalize on the bad press surrounding delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate provision (even though the move was substantively meaningless), House Republicans are set to move on their latest idea: a vote on delaying the individual mandate, too.

Politically, the move arguably makes some sense. Even though Republicans came up with the idea of the individual mandate, they’ve since turned it into one of the least popular provisions in “Obamacare.” By singling it out for a delay, GOP lawmakers bring attention to a controversial health care policy and put Democrats on the spot for defending it. Their bill won’t become law, of course – Republicans love symbolic, post-policy governing – but they might get a few attack ads out of this.

But substantively, there’s a problem. In fact, there’s more than one.

First, by going after the individual mandate, House Republicans are taking a bold stand in support of leaving 13.7 million Americans without any health care coverage at all.

Second, GOP lawmakers are also simultaneously (and admittedly) positioning themselves in support of a policy that leads to higher premiums and gaps for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

And third, Republican lawmakers are, for purely political reasons, obsessed with gutting federal health care law at the same time as new-but-inconvenient evidence emerges that the law is working extremely well.

Individuals buying health insurance on their own will see their premiums tumble next year in New York State as changes under the federal health care law take effect, state officials are to announce on Wednesday.

State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.

Supporters of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, credited the drop in rates to the online purchasing exchanges the law created, which they say are spurring competition among insurers that are anticipating an influx of new customers. The law requires that an exchange be started in every state.

If elected officials’ principal goal is to pursue policies that benefit the public, launching a crusade to sabotage the Affordable Care Act really doesn’t make any sense.

Skeptics have noted this morning that New York’s insurance market is uniquely messy, so the results aren’t representative of the impact we’ll see elsewhere. Perhaps. But Matt Yglesias argues persuasively that it’s “a big deal anyway.”

The first reason is that New York is a really big state. Its almost 20 million residents account for over 6 percent of the American population.[…]

But this is also important because there’s a lesson here. At various points, the Affordable Care Act’s critics in Congress have suggested that they might be interested in keeping the popular-sounding aspects of Obamacare – the community rating, the guaranteed issue – but just scrap all that unfortunate mandate talk and tax increases. The New York experience shows why that won’t work. That lesser plan is essentially what New York did some years back, and the consequences were enormous premium hikes as the state’s market was rocked by adverse selection. Affordable Care Act implementation, by adding the nasty elements back in, is fixing a huge problem that other states don’t suffer from but that would exist everywhere if Congress took the approach of just doing the easy parts.

In light of this, House Republicans are eager – desperate, even – to boast about their efforts to gut the law, no matter what it does to the uninsured and people with pre-existing conditions, and even though it does more of what we already know doesn’t work.

Before we move on, let’s also not forget that this isn’t limited to the Empire State. In California, exchanges are taking shape and premiums will be even lower than expected; insurers in Oregon are also lowering premiums; and health care expenditures overall are slowing, just as Obamacare was designed to accomplish.

Congressional Republicans and a few too many pundits want you to believe the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is a disaster. It’s not. They want you to believe gutting the law would make things better. It won’t.

Affordable Care Act and Obamacare

The House GOP's futile, poorly timed efforts to gut Obamacare

Updated