In Our View: Health Care, Not Tax Cuts

Numbers show we have less interest in corporate tax cuts than health coverage

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When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

In the first 18 days from the Nov. 1 launch of this year’s sign-up period, about 2.28 million Americans had enrolled on the federal exchange for health care plans in 2018. That number includes the 39 states that did not set up their own exchanges — residents here can go to the Washington Health Benefit Exchange — and represents a sharp increase over last year’s enrollment rate.

All of this comes despite efforts by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to scuttle the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare. And it signals to those critics the need to improve the act rather drive it to its grave.

The administration this year slashed the advertising budget for the federal exchange by 90 percent while also shortening the enrollment period. Judging by the number of people who have sought the accessible, affordable and subsidized plans available on the federal exchange, that strategy has not worked; the fact is that Obamacare provides a much-needed and much-desired service for millions of Americans.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have added a provision to their tax-cut proposal that would eliminate an individual mandate requiring Americans to carry health insurance or pay a tax. This provision helps ensure that healthy people sign up for health care and funds subsidies for low-income citizens who otherwise would not be able to afford insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing the mandate would save the federal government $338 billion over 10 years but would result in 13 million fewer people having health insurance.

This is needed, Republicans insist, in order to allow for a reduction in corporate tax rates, which they claim are the highest in the developed world. But several fact-checking outlets have determined that while statutory corporate rates are high in the United States, the actual rate paid is similar to other developed nations because of various deductions. Boeing, for example, paid 3.2 percent of profits in federal taxes over the past 15 years — far below the statutory rate of about 39 percent.

In essence, Senate Republicans are attempting to trade the health coverage of 13 million Americans for corporate tax cuts while relying upon a specious argument to justify that deal.

Meanwhile, Americans who do not receive insurance through their employers continue to rely upon policies sold by private insurers on the federal or state exchanges. Those exchanges are imperfect, with many locations showing sharp annual increases in premiums and with some locations having difficulty attracting insurers, but they call for improvement rather than elimination.

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have devised a bipartisan plan to provide flexibility that would help both consumers and insurers. But in the toxic atmosphere of Washington, D.C., there is no guarantee the proposal will gain traction or make it to the Senate floor. Senators would better serve the public by debating and improving and considering the plan than they would by surreptitiously undermining Obamacare under the guise of a tax plan.

The latest numbers demonstrate that Americans are interested in maintaining the Affordable Care Act, which is more than can be said about slashing corporate tax rates.