A little-noticed health care provision that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida slipped into a giant spending law last year has tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama's signature health law.
About two weeks ago, Marco Rubio's presidential campaign published a tweet asking a rather simple question: "Did Marco Kill Obamacare?" The senator's staff then answered it: "You bet he did."
Now, I like to think I follow the news pretty closely, and if a Republican senator had actually killed the Affordable Care Act, I suspect I would have noticed. So, what in the world is Team Rubio talking about? The New York Times had this report today:
At issue is a part of the ACA known as "risk corridors." As MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin explained a while back, the argument goes like this: "Under Obamacare, insurance companies must sell policies to everyone equally, regardless of pre-existing conditions, so there is a chance that some insurers could wind up with a larger-than-expected number of unhealthy customers. The risk corridor provision provides protections from that possibility until 2016. The cost is covered by other insurance companies, which pay into the risk corridor fund when they set their own premiums much higher than was needed to cover their expenses."
The point, obviously, is to help with the transition period as the law is implemented and takes root system-wide. Once insurers get a better sense how to set prices accurately, the risk subsides and the need for risk corridors lessens.
Ironically, Republicans helped come up with the idea for risk corridors in the first place, and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the temporary provision of the law would save American taxpayers about $8 billion over the course of three years.
But Rubio launched a crusade against the policy anyway, because, well, no one's really sure why. The Florida senator seems to work from the assumption that Obama is bad, which means Obamacare is bad, which means any attempt to undermine the health care system is good.
And, to be sure, if Rubio intended to do real harm by gutting the risk corridor program, he succeeded -- his effort has had a detrimental effect on the system.
But to see this as proof of Rubio "killing Obamacare" is a stretch, even for a Republican presidential candidate. Nicholas Bagley recently published a great piece on this, which is tough to excerpt, but which concluded, "Marco Rubio hasn't killed Obamacare and he hasn't saved taxpayers any money. All he's done is throw a wrench in the works."
The unnerving part of this is that Rubio introduced a degree of chaos into the system just for the sake of doing so. His gambit doesn't actually help anyone, and it certainly doesn't improve anyone's health security, but that's not why the senator did it. Rather, this was about taking steps to undermine the nation's health care system just so Rubio could brag to far-right voters about his destructive prowess.
As for why the Republican senator believes that's worthy of boasts, you'll have to ask him.