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DHS Secretary Mayorkas Appears Before House Appropriations Subcommittee
Rep. Lauren Underwood questions U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as he testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on April 27 in Washington, D.C.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images, file

Vulnerable Democrats ring the alarm about a looming ACA challenge

A group of House Democrats want their leaders to defuse “a political time bomb” related to the ACA. The party would be wise to take this seriously.


For Affordable Care Act proponents, the past several months have been a time to celebrate. As regular readers know, the ACA is working; it’s popular; it’s affordable; it’s withstood far too many legal challenges; and even many Republicans are walking away from their repeal-and-replace shtick.

But amidst the good news for those who want to see “Obamacare” succeed, there’s been a foreboding cloud on the horizon. As we’ve discussed, the ACA-related benefits included in the American Rescue Plan — the ones that have made the system significantly more affordable for consumers — were designed to be temporary.

The White House and Democratic leaders want to make the current benefits permanent, and it was a central pillar of the Build Back Better package, but conservative Democratic senators have already derailed the BBB effort, and it’s an open question whether a small alternative will take shape — and whether a revised version might include continued subsidies for health coverage.

As Politico reported, the uncertainty is making some already nervous Democrats ring the alarm.

A group of more than two dozen vulnerable Democrats from swing districts is sounding the alarm about a major Obamacare shortfall set to kick in right as voters head to the polls this fall — a sleeper issue for the party that comes atop soaring inflation, supply-chain problems, worries about infant baby formula and spiking crime.

Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois has helped take the lead on this, writing to her party’s congressional leaders and urging them to use the reconciliation process to keep the status quo in place and prevent premium spikes for 13 million lower-income Americans.

Complicating matters is the political calendar: As Politico’s report added, the higher prices wouldn’t kick in until the new year, but consumers would be alerted to the higher prices in the fall — right around the time of the midterm elections.

A separate Politico report last week described this as “a political time bomb” for Democrats.

Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, a health care advocacy group, recently told HuffPost, “Families will start to receive notices about skyrocketing premiums just weeks before the midterm elections. Some of the most closely watched states ― for example in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona ― will experience some of the largest increases.”

The good news is, Democrats have the time and wherewithal to prevent this from happening. What’s more, as conservative as Sen. Joe Manchin is on a variety of issues, the West Virginian has long been an ACA proponent, thanks in part to the successes the law has had in his home state.

The bad news is, the party appears to have no idea how to craft a reconciliation package, what it could or should include, how much to invest, how to pay for the investment, and how to advance through both chambers.

It might be tempting to look at the calendar and think the governing majority has plenty of time. That’s wrong. Congress’ summer break is coming up, and historically, very little important work gets done in the runup to midterm elections.

In other words, Democrats have a few weeks, not a few months, to deliver. Watch this space.