Trumpcare debacle means health care woes will remain
Half a year into his presidency, it seems pretty clear that Donald Trump would rather continue campaigning — or golfing, or both — than actually governing the country. Who can blame him? It is so much easier and more gratifying to stir up the troops with snide remarks about Hillary Clinton or the free press and to make exciting promises about reforming health care and lowering taxes than it is to confront a fundamental truth: the Republican party has had years to consider, craft, and deliver a health care plan that would supplant the much maligned Affordable Care Act, and the best they could do was offer a plan that guts Medicaid to the tune of $830 billion to fund a huge tax cut for the wealthy, while leaving millions Americans without any health care at all. Brilliant.
Of course, President Trump campaigned on something quite different, a health care plan that would be affordable and would cover all Americans. Needless to say, that is not the plan they are scrambling to get passed in a last-ditch effort before summer recess begins.
The Republicans made hay during the campaign by attacking key weak points in the ACA, including rising premiums that were, for many, prohibitively expensive, as well as former President Obama’s pledge that people would be allowed to keep their old insurance, which didn’t turn out to be true. The Democrats faltered badly by failing to cop to these flaws and pledging to fix the problems, giving frustrated voters nowhere to turn but to their wishful thinking about the GOP’s promise for a better plan. Ignoring this issue was an act of hubris that may well have cost Clinton the election.
I used the phrase “wishful thinking” because neither party, especially the GOP, is willing to tell the truth about health care, which is that there is no cheap or easy solution to the problem. The American people are going to have to come to terms with this as well. Year after year, the pharmaceutical companies continue to rake in massive profits while donating a ton of money to politicians on both sides of the aisle. Is it any wonder that health care is such a mess?
As it now stands, we seem to have a political stalemate. Trump never had a viable plan — at least not one that would deliver on his lofty campaign promises — finally admitting that health care was “harder” than he thought, which is as close as he has come (or will likely ever get) to a moment of humility. Then again, that might have been a way to deflect from the reality of what was actually in the bill.
The Republicans have already made one failed run at “repeal and replace,” and they now seemed destined for a second failed run. One key problem is the plan is so bad that a lot of them cannot bear the thought of taking it back to their furious constituents, who genuinely expected a better health care plan, and not just a giant cash grab for the rich.
For weeks, no one was even allowed to see the details of the plan they were going to be asked to vote on. They knew if the truth of the American Health Care Act was disclosed, there would be an uproar. So there were no hearings, no debate, no discussion at all. Just more stonewalling and obfuscation.
Now we are in the midst of the GOP taking even another run at getting it passed before the bill is once again mired in political limbo. If that happens, as many expect, the focus may then shift to another act of desperation, repealing the Affordable Care Act with a promise to replace it later. The Republicans have not been able to come up with a plan for seven years, but now they will be able to do it in just a few weeks or months? Sure thing.
If the ongoing problems with Russian interference into the 2016 election do not turn out to be Trump’s Waterloo, then the implosion of his promise to fix health care might be. As flawed as the Affordable Care Act may be, Americans are not going to stand for seeing it repealed with no better replacement in sight. And with no better replacement in sight, the most likely scenario appears to be keeping it and changing focus to fixing its flaws.
Of course, that would be a massive political loss for Trump, and a major blow to his massive ego if Obamacare is not replaced with Trumpcare. The 45th president has, from the beginning, set his sights on dismantling or undermining much of what Obama was able to accomplish during his tenure, but if he fails on taking out Obamacare, it would represent a crushing political defeat.
But that’s just politics, and politics won’t fix health care. The only thing that can do that is the American people’s commitment to take care of every citizen, including “the least of these,” regardless of what it takes. Until that is a higher priority than tax cuts for the wealthy, the health care problems we face will remain. The only question will be the magnitude of suffering we are willing to tolerate and justify.