The leading Republican candidates for the open 6th Congressional District this week reiterated their pledge to go to Washington and rid the country of the scourge of the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m going to deliver finally on repealing and replacing Obamacare,” said Karen Handel, as if she alone could pull off what the election of a GOP House, Senate and president has so spectacularly failed to accomplish.
“To stop, and not move forward repealing and replacing Obamacare is wrong,” said former state Sen. Judson Hill, the man who in 2007 championed state legislation that read as a virtual blueprint for what later became Obamacare, right down to government-run exchanges and individual mandates to buy insurance.
Up in Washington, House Speaker Paul Ryan was making similar noises, warning his fellow Republicans that if they didn’t come up with a deal, President Trump might start making deals with the Democrats.
It’s enough to make a person laugh. For all intents and purposes, the health-insurance war is over and the conservatives lost. All that remains is negotiating the terms of their surrender, and the sooner they come to that realization, the better it will be for their party and more importantly for the country as a whole.
It is over because the American people, as a whole, now overwhelmingly accept the basic argument that some form of health insurance is a necessity and a right, even for those who cannot afford it for themselves. An overwhelming and growing majority of Americans also agree that government should be the last-ditch guarantor of that right to health care. You can cite a lot of reasons for the GOP’s spectacular, ongoing failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including its own incompetence and arrogance, but the main reason the effort failed is because voters will not accept a plan that strips health insurance from 24 million of their fellow Americans, and they have made that fact known in no uncertain terms.
In a Pew poll taken in January, for example, 60 percent of Americans agreed that “it’s the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage.” Just 38 percent disagreed. More to the point, 52 percent of Republican voters making less than $30,000 a year also agree with that statement, up from 31 percent a year ago. Those are the folks whose lives are at stake in this debate, the people who have benefited from having health insurance. They are also the voters likely to switch sides if that access to health care is taken away from them.
Take Medicaid expansion, which has helped insure some 11 million lower-income Americans in the 31 states that have embraced it. When the House GOP announced plans to reverse that provision, it inspired a broad backlash from Republican governors, hospital groups, the American Medical Association and just about anybody involved in the health-care debate from a non-ideological perspective. The 17 percent public-approval rate for the GOP bill can largely be attributed to its proposed dismantling of Medicaid.
Look what has happened since the House bill crashed and burned. In Kansas, the Republican Legislature voted overwhelmingly last week to expand Medicaid in their state, forcing the hapless Gov. Sam Brownback to veto it. Similar expansion efforts are underway in Maine, Virginia, North Carolina and even here in Georgia.
There’s no going back. The basic part of the debate is over.