The zombie government program known as Obamacare just won’t die. Donald Trump has tried several times to end its existence and each time has come up short.
The president has, however, been able to chip away at its more onerous aspects, including killing the individual mandate. And the death of the mandate could lead to the death of the entire Affordable Care Act. The administration, along with two dozen states, submitted an 83-page brief to the Supreme Court asking them to declare the act unconstitutional, using the repeal of the individual mandate as a primary reason.
In 2017, when Republicans in Congress failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, they settled for removing the individual mandate, the penalty levied against those who have no health-insurance coverage. Now, the administration is throwing its weight behind the argument that the removal of that key portion of the law invalidates the rest of it.
“Nothing the 2017 Congress did demonstrates it would have intended the rest of the A.C.A. to continue to operate in the absence of these three integral provisions,” solicitor general Noel Francisco wrote in the brief. “The entire A.C.A. thus must fall with the individual mandate.
There is little doubt that eliminating Obamacare as a government program is necessary. The monstrous bureaucracy it created, the compulsory nature of much of the act, the massive cost, the autocratic, illiberal, undemocratic way it was administered — all of these reasons argue for its elimination.
But destroying Obamacare would end insurance for millions of people. In a pandemic. In a recession. Whatever virtues in ending the program are offset by the election-losing optics in throwing millions of people off their insurance.
It was supposed to be a “repeal and replace” strategy where some of the ACA’s less onerous provisions might be refashioned into something more market-friendly and changes could be grandfathered in gradually, giving people time to adjust. But if the Supreme Court issues a death sentence to the act, none of that will happen and many people won’t be shielded from the blowback.
But given the uncertainty of the 2020 election and the possibility that a conservative majority on the court might not last much longer, this may be the last chance to rid the nation of this white elephant. Should the Trump administration have hesitated, the opportunity may have been lost for the foreseeable future.
The Trump administration’s brief comes as the U.S. has recorded more than 120,000 deaths from COVID-19, with nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases. On Wednesday, the nation hit a new record for the highest daily total of new infections reported with more than 45,500.
For the roughly 25 million people out of work and collecting jobless benefits, the ACA’s marketplaces and Medicaid expansion provide avenues to gain subsidized health insurance with consumer protections.
Trump campaigned in 2016 on repealing the ACA but fell just short in Congress in 2017. His legal position is consistent with his determination to undo President Barack Obama’s achievements.
There’s no personal grudge against Obama at work here. Eliminating Obamacare is a question of good governance and common sense.
Pandemic or no pandemic. Recession or no recession. The act has got to go.
Perhaps a Supreme Court decision that declares Obamacare unconstitutional will spur Congress to finally act on a reasonable, incremental health care bill that would maintain some of Obamacare’s more popular provisions like the ban on not insuring patients with pre-existing conditions. Democrats would load up a bill with all kinds of unnecessary bells and whistles but the urgency of the need could override the desire for partisan political advantage. That’s pretty much what happened with the coronavirus relief bills and it could happen with a replacement to Obamacare.