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GOP Health Care Plans: MAGAcare Comes To Life

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Late last week, Politico was able to obtain an early draft of the proposed ACA repeal and replacement legislation currently weaving its way through the corridors of Congress.  Republicans are trying to piece together a platform that removes the most hated elements of Obamacare, while still maintaining a Federal structure to provide access to health care insurance.

The draft proposal has a myriad of problems and hurdles to overcome. Not least of which is it lacks a title…I for one have proposed the Make America Great Again Health Care Reform Act (MAGAcare).  But they, I’m sure they will come up with a running title that is even worse.

For me, the most significant proposal for most Americans is replacing income-based tax credits with age-adjusted tax credits. This seems esoteric on its surface, but would have a tremendous impact on how much access lower-income Americans (most of whom are young, after all) will have. It would dramatically shift the financial burden on to the poor and youth of America, while older (and generally wealthier) Americans would come out ahead.

The bill also likely would go a long way to further destabilize the already unhealthy Obamacare insurance exchanges.  By 2020, the bill would end cost-sharing reductions that help low-income people cover the out-of-pocket payments that most exchange plans impose, including deductibles. Additionally, they spend no money in 2018 and 2019 to fund those cost-sharing reductions in the interim.  Finally, and maybe most profoundly, the bill ends the individual mandate, one of Trump’s core promises. But the replacement, the continuous coverage provision that would require people to keep insurance constantly in order to guarantee access to insurance, likely would not be strong enough to force people into the marketplace.  As such, many young and poor likely will opt out all together, further risking the death spiral that many have feared from the beginning.

The most daring proposal at this point is the repeal of Medicaid expansion. The program has added more citizens to the insured rolls than any other part of the ACA, and as such, is very expensive but also fairly popular.  Local officials, predominantly Republican Governors, are very frightened of any proposal that would repeal a program that would leave millions of low-income people without sufficient health care access.

That is why on Friday, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, maybe the leading Republican proponent for the ACA, went to the White House to make his case for Medicaid expansion. And if reports are to be believed, he had a receptive audience, not only from Presidential Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, but from the President himself:

A meeting Friday afternoon between President Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, his former rival in the GOP primaries, had no set agenda. But Kasich came armed with one anyway: his hope to blunt drastic changes to the nation’s health-care system envisioned by some conservatives in Washington.

Over the next 45 minutes, according to Kasich and others briefed on the session, the governor made his pitch while the president eagerly called in several top aides and then got Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on the phone. At one point, senior adviser Jared Kushner reminded his father-in-law that House Republicans are sketching out a different approach to providing access to coverage. “Well, I like this better,” Trump replied, according to a Kasich adviser. [Bold added]

For hard-core conservatives, the fact that Trump prefers any health care proposal of Kasich’s over the mainstream Republican proposals is frightening, to say the least. The messaging from the White House on this program has been muddled, to say the least. For example, asked by George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s “This Week,” whether Trump “won’t touch Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid,”  deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “Look, the president is committed to doing that. . . . And I don’t see any reason to start thinking differently.” I am not sure how you avoid touching Medicaid while still keeping the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act…in many ways, they are one and the same.

Trump is likely to garner more opposition to current Republican congressional plans on Monday, when he meets at the White House with some of the nation’s largest health insurers. including top executives from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna and Humana. This will give those insurers every opportunity to lobby the President on maintaining federal financial support for their current insurance regimens.

In short, Republicans in Congress are largely left to themselves to figure out which direction to head, with lack of any leadership from the White House on the matter. Trump seems willing to talk and consider any proposal from anyone, but at the same time appears reluctant to take the lead on this because of the political risks involved, as well as possibly his own personal concerns regarding these specific reforms.

To their credit, Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority leader Mitch McConnell are moving forward and fighting the good fight. They know they face an uphill challenge in the Senate, where liberal Republican Senators such as Collins and Murkowski may defect at a moments notice. They believe that by moving forward quickly, they will play a game of chicken with wavering Republicans, in hopes that they won’t stand against them if push comes to shove.  Republicans’ “now or never” approach is seen by many leaders as their best chance to break through irreconcilable differences.

For all the talk from the White House and Congress however, the amazing aspect about all this is how little consensus has been achieved by the GOP. On major policy issues, even as basic as how to provide tax credits to individuals to buy health care, there is very little agreement. Unless Trump takes the leadership reins on this issue, this process may quickly become like herding cats.  The GOP must unite to be successful on this very difficult legislative maneuver, and only Trump has the power currently to make that unification possible.