In Our View: Strengthen Obamacare

Congress must set aside partisanship, improve the Affordable Care Act

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When it comes to the nation’s health care system, far too many members of both parties keep taking their eye off the ball. So, in order to help avoid more embarrassing strikeouts, we shall offer a little coaching: Work to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, not kill it.

Saving it is the goal of Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who are leading a bipartisan effort to shore up the nation’s health care. Considering that Murray and Alexander worked together in the past to overhaul public education and that Murray has a history of forging budget deals with Republicans, they appear to be the best people to lead this important effort.

President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress often have declared the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare — to be on its deathbed, and then tried to make their prophecy come true. Trump has threatened numerous times to end subsidies that help keep insurers in the market, a strategy that would lead to the collapse of the system. Meanwhile, the administration this year slashed the advertising budget for individual insurance markets by 90 percent — from $100 million to $10 million.

Being able to say “we told you so” apparently is more of a victory in their minds than preserving health insurance for as many as 18 million Americans — including 330,000 in Washington. So, while Murray and Alexander are working toward a solution that will preserve care in a fiscally responsible manner, members of both parties continue to engage in damaging partisanship.

For Republicans, that means renewed efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, something they have disingenuously promised since the law was created in 2010. Despite having several votes fail in the Senate earlier this year, a last-ditch bill to alter Obamacare is being considered before a Sept. 30 deadline. The plan, proposed by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, would take Obamacare funding and turn it into a block grant while rolling back protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Early analyses show that some states would lose billions of dollars in funding for health care, and that millions of people would lose access to insurance.

Instead of clinging to specious promises, Republicans should work to provide stability for insurers. In many cases, insurers have left the market not because of costs, but because of uncertainty. Despite this, every county in the country has at least one company offering individual insurance under the Affordable Care Act for 2018.

Contrary to the Republican mantra, Obamacare is not imploding. But it does remain on shaky ground. Therefore, Democrats also must keep their eyes on the ball. Instead, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently unveiled a Medicare for All plan to create universal single-payer care. As Steve Chapman wrote for the Chicago Tribune, “His proposal really should be called Medicare for All and a pony. It’s everything you could want and then some.”

While Republicans long have — inaccurately — decried the Affordable Care Act as socialism, Sanders’ plan provides a glimpse of what true socialism looks like. It is unrealistic to expect the proposal to garner significant public support. And still, many Democrats have repeated the mistake of Republicans and failed to recognize that promises are easy, governing is harder.

Instead, members of both parties must focus on the task at hand: Strengthening the Affordable Care Act rather than pursuing an unrealistic agenda.