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As health care premiums rise, responsibility shifts to Republicans

As Republican policies push premiums higher, GOP leaders can't shake responsibility for the adverse effects of "Trumpcare."
A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)
A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) recently had an interesting back and forth on Twitter about health care. The New York Democrat said American consumers are facing higher premiums because of Republican policies, while the Texas Republican replied, "Make no mistake: this is solely caused by Obamacare."

At face value, this probably seems like a stale and predictable exercise: each side of the partisan divide is blaming the other for developments that the public won't like. But the answer is a knowable thing. Either Schumer is correct or Cornyn is. There are factual details available that take this out of the realm of political sniping and into clarifying light.

So, which is it? What's driving the sudden spike in premiums? We need only ask those responsible for the rates. Take yesterday, for example.

"With respect to the individual market, the single biggest justification offered by insurers for the requested increases is the Trump Administration's repeal of the individual mandate penalty," New York's Department of Financial Services said in a statement."Insurers have attributed approximately half of their requested rate increases to the risks they see resulting from its repeal."

New York is by no means unique. Insurers in states across the country have been submitting rate hikes to regulators, and they're all saying the same thing: Republican changes to the Affordable Care Act, spearheaded by Donald Trump, have undermined the American market.

Reporting on the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office, Axios recently added, "Insurance premiums tend to go up every year, but the magnitude of these increases stems largely from the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate, the expansion of skimpy short-term plans, and the decision last year to cut off the law's cost-sharing payments."

When the president took these actions, quite a few of us said his moves would make things worse. The bill is now due -- though it's not Trump who'll pay more, it's the consumers he chose to punish out of political spite.

Even former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a former far-right congressman from Trump's own cabinet, recently conceded that his party's efforts "drive up the costs" for many consumers.

All of which brings us back to the argument between Cornyn and Schumer. For the GOP leader, premium hikes are necessarily the Affordable Care Act's fault because, well, just because. The trouble is, the health insurers have made no effort to hide the truth: they're raising premiums because of Republican changes to the system.

Unless Cornyn and his colleagues are prepared to argue that insurance companies are engaged in an elaborate ruse, Republican policymakers have already lost this argument.

indeed, they took ownership of the health care system when they scrapped the individual mandate, cut off cost-sharing reductions, and made it easier for people to buy worse coverage. In the process, GOP officials abandoned the ability to credibly blame "Obamacare" for developments that hurt consumers.

Going forward, it's only fair to blame "Trumpcare."

Postscript: The Washington Post's editorial board had a good piece on this today.