The nascent bi-partisan Obamacare bailout plan being proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray is being billed as a stopgap that will give the GOP time to pass a repeal and replacement without the pressure of the Affordable Care Act’s collapse. In reality, it’s a way for the GOP to go into 2018 election season without the albatross of skyrocketing premiums hung about their necks.
President Trump’s executive order last week to stop cost-sharing reduction payments for Obamacare insurers forced Congress to choose between higher premiums, swiftly repealing and replacing Obamacare, or a Congressional “fix” to fund the payments. The Alexander-Murray plan represents option three and has a good chance of passing if some Democrats embrace it.
On the surface, this seems like a good deal for Republicans. They get to make minor progress towards healthcare freedom without the arduous task of selling a repeal and replacement plan that can be embraced full spectrum by Republicans in the Senate. This buys them time; leadership may determine they’re better off deferring until after the election to attempt another repeal.
Digging a little deeper reveals that this is almost everything the Democrats could have wanted. Even the trade-offs being offered – a “copper plan” and more freedom for state waivers – aren’t true negatives for Democrats. These trade-offs expand the need for more funding in the future by increasing insurers’ risks. What the Democrats get in return is as good as if they controlled Capitol Hill. Their outreach funding returns to full strength, enabling them to enroll more people in their plan. Meanwhile, they get the funding they need to subsidize their insurance companies. If anything, they’re better off with the Alexander-Murray plan than they were before since it will be appropriated through legislation and not by questionable executive order.
These are all fair trades for the Democrats who only lose one major item: the GOP albatross. With this plan on the table, the only way they could make premiums rise on the GOP’s watch is if they obstructed so blatantly they’d be the ones to blame. Right now, the momentum is in their favor as the uninformed voters will blame Trump’s executive order and Congress’ inaction if their premiums rose. It doesn’t matter that six months ago the Obamacare collapse was fully on the Democrats’ shoulders. That ship sailed when Republicans failed to capitalize on it with a repeal. Now, rising premiums would be the GOP’s fault in the eyes of most voters with mainstream media pushing that narrative.
The reason this plan has a chance of succeeding in DC is because both sides get what they need to energize their bases for election season. Democrats get to keep Obamacare and Republicans get to claim they’re making progress in weakening it. The only real losers in this deal would be the average American who would be cursed to persevere through Obamacare for longer than promised. If the GOP can’t repeal the ACA and loses control in 2018, we’ll be stuck with Obamacare for a very long time.