A blow to Obamacare could deal the GOP a political hit too
Here we go again. While the U.S. House was voting for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans ruled against Obamacare's individual mandate requirement that nearly everyone must have health insurance or pay a penalty.
Yes, that raises the possibility once again that the entire Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, could be struck down.
What? Did you perhaps believe the president when he said back in October 2017 that "Obamacare is finished"?
"It's dead. It's gone," Donald Trump told reporters before a cabinet meeting. "You shouldn't even mention it. It's gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore."
Yes, there is -- and it is more popular now than it was when candidate Trump was running against it.
In a lawsuit backed by Republicans and Trump, the appeals court ruled the individual mandate to be unconstitutional but declined to rule on the rest of the ACA. Instead the court sent it back to a lower court. That means it probably won't be settled before next year's election, which hands Democrats an issue that has played quite favorably for them recently.
Republicans lost a wave of House races and governor's mansions in last year's midterms partly because of a backlash against Republican efforts to gut Obamacare. Nancy Pelosi, now speaker of the House, urged her party's candidates to emphasize the law's most popular feature: health insurance coverage for preexisting conditions, those that started before a person's health benefits went into effect.
Sure enough, health care coverage became the primary issue for 2018 voters, according to exit polls published by CNN, and those who selected it preferred Democratic candidates by 75% to 23%.
The political landscape has changed since ACA approval fell to an all-time low of 37% in Gallup's trend line as Republicans scored big gains in the November 2014 midterms.
After numerous Republican-backed legal and legislative assaults, Obamacare lives on with more than 8.4 million consumers enrolled in 2019, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is still counting enrollees for the 2020 period.
Sometimes voters don't really appreciate something until they're about to lose it. The public's approval of Obamacare ironically climbed above 50% as Trump, who pledged to kill it, was elected.
Public approval has held steady at about 53% to 40% disapproval, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. The Gallup Poll has shown similar approval ratings around 50% since it a record high 55% in April 2017.
Not surprisingly, support and opposition falls strongly along partisan lines. Republicans show overwhelming disapproval, which reminds me of how the Grand Old Party, let us not forget, came up with the "Obamacare" nickname in an early effort to scuttle the ACA.
Now the GOP has an opportunity to do something with the health care issue besides trying to kill it. If ever there was a time for the GOP to put on their thinking caps and show serious concern about the nation's health care needs amid rising costs and shrinking coverage, this is it.
Yet I am just as underwhelmed by some of the socialism-lite offered by presidential candidates Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on the Democrats' far-left wing. Eliminating the choice of private insurance coverage, as Sanders still aims to do, alienates sympathizers like me who think private coverage should be a choice, not an enemy.
Pushing extreme notions like that back to the sensible center is what we Americans need conservatives to do, if they can escape the mind-numbing shackles of political tribalism -- a malady in search of a remedy in both parties.
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