The Obamacare repeal effort was already in unstable condition. Now its status must be downgraded to critical — and completely unserious.
After years of Republican yammering about the urgent need to repeal the Affordable Care Act and months of fruitless pursuit of an alternative, President Trump now says he may not unveil a replacement this year at all. And from Capitol Hill comes new word that Republicans aren’t even talking about a plan.
“To be honest, there’s not any real discussion taking place right now,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters. Corker, according to the Huffington Post, said he has “no idea” when Republicans might start drafting an alternative to Obamacare.
For seven years, opponents of the Affordable Care Act vowed to make its repeal their top concern, warning that the law would turn America overnight into a socialist dystopia. Now these opponents have unfettered control of the government and they aren’t even talking about repealing.
In his weekend interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Trump said that “maybe it’ll take till sometime into next year” for his administration to unveil a new healthcare plan. It is, the president said, “very complicated.”
So complicated, in fact, that he apparently wants nothing to do with it. At Trump’s meeting with congressional leadership, Trump told the lawmakers Obamacare would be replaced with something better, and then he turned to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “And Paul’s going to fill in the details. Right, Paul?”
A secret recording of Republican lawmakers’ Obama-repeal talks late last month revealed angst and uncertainty about how to proceed and a great deal of worry that they would be blamed for whatever went wrong in the health-care market.
What Republicans don’t seem to have come to terms with is that, as a political matter, they already will be held responsible for whatever happens to healthcare markets, even if they don’t introduce a replacement soon. An executive order Trump signed relaxing enforcement of Obamacare, and the constant talk of repeal, have injected a debilitating uncertainty into the healthcare market — essentially beginning the unraveling of Obamacare with nothing to replace it.
The executive order Trump signed directed federal agencies to do what they could to “minimize” the burdens of the act by exercising their authority “to waive, defer, grant exemptions from or delay” parts of the law. Insurers have warned that the uncertainty is deterring them from participating in Obamacare. The head of Anthem told Wall Street analysts that he would be deciding about “extracting” his company from healthcare exchanges if it doesn’t see stability.
This means that Republicans, while waiting for their alternative to “congeal,” have already set in motion the disintegration of the current health-insurance market. “It’s worse than the dog who caught the car,” said Jesse Ferguson, a strategist advising Democrats on health care. “It’s the dog who somehow is now driving the car.”
Now that Trump is talking about delaying a healthcare rollout for another year and Republican legislators aren’t even talking about an Obamacare alternative, it’s becoming clear what “Trumpcare” will look like: chaos.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank