What others say: Bipartisan health-care bill fills immediate need

  • By Arizona Republic editorial
  • Thursday, October 26, 2017 12:26pm
  • Opinion

The Alexander-Murray health-care bill is a rare bipartisan effort on a topic that has generated white-hot political controversy. If Donald Trump wants to show some leadership, this is his chance.

The bill isn’t perfect. It isn’t the final fix for Obamacare. But it deserves support for what it is: a needed quick fix and an opening to further bipartisan reform later.

The approach offers enormous advantages over the current roller-coaster ride of instability as politicians fight over the fate of Obamacare.

The bill will stabilize the health-care marketplace, which was plunged into uncertainty Oct. 12 when Donald Trump said his administration would stop paying billions in health-insurance subsidies for low-income households.

These subsidies cover costs to insurance companies of providing mandated discounted rates to low-income Americans. Because insurance companies are required to offer the discounts, these companies will have to cover the cost without subsidies — then pass on their costs as higher premiums for other clients.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums would increase 20 percent by 2018. It is people in the middle class, many of them Trump supporters, who will get hit with increased costs.

The legality of the administration paying the subsidies has been in dispute. The bill introduced by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray would resolve that by authorizing them through Congress.

It would allow states more flexibility, while preserving protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

The bill restores peace of mind to Americans who get their coverage through Obamacare. It provides (short-term) stability to the health insurance industry.

It will also buy time for lawmakers to find a more permanent solution.

If Trump’s goal in rescinding the subsidies was to force congressional action, he could have taken a celebratory bow and encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote on this bipartisan quick fix — something McConnell said he will do as soon as the president gives his blessing.

Trump should then have started working on conservative House members, who bristle at anything short of a full repeal of Obamacare.

Instead, on Monday, the administration circulated a list of demands for the bill, such as ending the individual mandate to have insurance and repealing penalties on large employers who don’t cover their workers.

The demands embody the elements of a repeal of Obamacare, something Trump and the GOP promised but have been unable to deliver.

These demands could well end the bipartisan nature of what has been a good-faith effort to enact a fix.

Trump’s task now is to be part of the fix — because even without Trump’s recent efforts to sabotage Obamacare, the system had major flaws that demand attention.

But if Trump sinks this bill and contributes to the further disintegration of Obamacare, he will own the disaster — and it is a disaster that will touch many of his core supporters as they lose coverage or watch premiums skyrocket.

In the eyes of the American people, Republicans in Congress also will own the disaster.

Their task now is to salvage and stabilize Obamacare for the time being. Conservatives may need to hold their noses, but this has to be done.

This is important to individual Americans as well as the health-care industry, which endured a major overhaul after Obamacare passed.

It’s worth noting that Obamacare was a purely Democratic effort. No Republicans participated. That was wrong then and it is wrong now.

We previously pointed out the folly and irony of Republicans attempting to repeal or replace Obamacare with only GOP support.

Health care is too big and too important to be purely partisan. The lack of GOP support was a genetic flaw in Obamacare. Republicans should not repeat that mistake.

The Alexander-Murray bill is bipartisan. It provides space and time for a more comprehensive — and bipartisan — look at permanent reforms to Obamacare later.

It addresses immediate concerns.

The bill represents a measured and reasoned approach to a discussion that has been more about unbridled passion than pragmatism.

It is a quick fix. But it is what we need now.

— The Arizona Republic,

Oct. 24

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