Republicans in Congress have a big problem. Despite promising to repeal and replace Obamacare “root and branch,” their attempts to provide a legislative solution have failed. They have even lost their will to tackle health care, with Republican leadership announcing they plan to move on tax reform instead.
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But while it might be easy for politicians to forget their promises, voters are unable to ignore skyrocketing health care costs and rapidly collapsing Obamacare markets.
Twin executive orders signed by President Donald Trump on Thursday that would expand insurance sales across state lines and end insurer subsidies may hasten Obamacare’s inevitable demise, but that doesn’t let Congress off the hook. Congress’s job is to legislate and they are not doing it.
Republicans must continue to look for health care solutions, and not just because they promised they would. Obamacare restrictions mandating insurers cover preexisting conditions caused low-cost plans to disappear from the marketplace, a change that was disruptive and destructive to basic health care. The lack of consumer options, coupled with the mandate that every American must purchase health insurance, underscore that Obamacare’s legal framework must be uprooted. While executive action can loosen restrictions and increase competition at the margins, the real work must be done (or undone) by the legislative branch.
Trump’s decision to end unconstitutional federal subsidies for Obamacare means that prices will probably go up, as these monies, which Congress never appropriated, subsidized insurance costs for low income people on the exchanges.
In addition to the end of the subsidies likely causing price increases, Obamacare premiums have skyrocketed year over year. Insurers in several states are again asking for huge 2018 rate hikes. In Idaho, West Virginia, South Carolina, Iowa and Wyoming, rate hikes average 30 percent or higher. New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas are eyeing double-digit hikes, too. It’s impossible to ignore such huge cost increases.
In the past, voters responded by electing Republicans. What will they do now?
Beyond price hikes, there’s also the problem of disappearing options. A New York Times analysis found that nearly 45 counties could have no Obamacare insurer by next year, and that 3 million people in 1,388 counties will have only one insurer to choose from. These people are required by law to have health insurance, but in actuality they will have no market options. It will take an act of Congress to remove the mandate.
This isn’t something Republicans can just ignore and hope it goes away.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and if Republicans in Congress choose to continue their long slog of do-nothingness, their opposition is more than happy to provide a solution. Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed the Medicare for All Act, a single payer solution with 15 co-sponsors that’s injecting a lot of energy into the Democrat grassroots.
Skyrocketing premiums and collapsing markets mean that already cash-strapped Americans are facing spending tens of thousands of dollars more per year on health care. Forty-seven percent of Americans would have to borrow or sell something just to cover a $400 emergency, so it goes without saying that they are unable to afford these hikes.
Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election in part because she failed to connect with millions of Americans who are struggling with harsh economic realities. Congressional Republicans would do well to not repeat her mistakes.