Juan Williams: The GOP’s pointless ObamaCare war

Greg Nash

The House GOP has finally put out its own healthcare plan.

That giant choking sound you hear is coming from Donald Trump. He can’t swallow this one.

{mosads}Trump, about to be crowned as the Republican presidential nominee, wants to end ObamaCare but he has promised never to change Medicare. Sixty-four percent of Republicans, according to a 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, agree with Trump on the importance of keeping Medicare as it is. So do 78 percent of Democrats.

But Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) plan calls for upending Medicare.

Instead of a guaranteed government healthcare plan for seniors, the Ryan plan will create an option in which a set dollar amount is offered to seniors so they can buy health insurance from private companies.

So, with four months to go until the presidential election, the politics of healthcare have flipped. 

Now we have Congressional Democrats mocking the House GOP’s plan: “The big zit on the face of his proposal is … raising the age… for Medicare. I mean, that’s a nonstarter,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “So if you didn’t need to know anything else about his proposal, know that.” 

Instead of the GOP majority in Congress targeting the purported weaknesses in President Obama’s six year old Affordable Care Act, we have Republicans standing in a circular firing squad.

As Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Foundation, pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, the split among Republicans over Medicare will provide Hillary Clinton with powerful ammunition in the upcoming presidential debates. She will be able to force Trump into a trap where he has to reject or “embrace part or all, of the GOP plan.”

In that debate, Trump will also have to take a position on the Speaker’s proposal to limit the tax breaks for companies that offer employees health insurance. Most Americans get their health coverage from their employer. Clinton will hammer Trump on whether he wants to distance himself from the House GOP’s healthcare alternative on that point.

And Clinton is sure to ask him what he thinks of the House GOP’s plan to offer tax credits to buy insurance for catastrophic medical emergencies so as to — in the words of The Wall Street Journal — “sweep away the health law’s requirement for insurers to offer coverage to all regardless of their medical history, one of the most popular provisions of the law.”

Last month Karl Rove, the former top political advisor to President George W. Bush, argued in a Wall Street Journal column that Clinton and Senate Democrats would be on the defensive over ObamaCare. He pointed to polls that show 89 percent of Republicans reject ObamaCare. Among all voters, the Real Clear Politics average shows 48.8 percent disapproval versus 39.2 percent approval for the healthcare plan.

“But to exploit this opportunity,” Rove wrote, “Republicans must campaign on credible, substantive alternatives to ObamaCare.”

How quickly that political dynamic has shifted.

Now the “substantive” alternative offered by Ryan, labeled “A Better Way to Fix Health Care,” holds the potential to boost support for the president’s current healthcare program. The House plan is weak and offers almost nothing in the way of specifics, no new ideas and no mention of how much it would cost. 

The Washington Post editorial board dumped all over the GOP House proposal for failing to lay out its costs. The Ryan plan is “difficult to evaluate or take seriously,” the paper wrote. “This many years on, the GOP has no excuses for blank spaces.” The Post added the GOP alternative looked to “be hard on the poor, old and sick.” 

“It isn’t legislation,” Pelosi noted in her comments on the GOP plan. “Maybe when they ever decide to write legislation, they’ll get a score on how much it’s going to cost, how many people will lose coverage, and we can make a judgment about it.”

Meanwhile, as the GOP House plan flounders, so many dire predictions from Republicans of catastrophic consequences from the Obama plan have not materialized.

There are no death panels.

The ACA didn’t steal $700 Billion from Medicare.

Illegal immigrants are not draining the program.

Most important of all, the ACA delivered on its central promise to provide healthcare to millions of previously uninsured Americans. 

According to a May 25 analysis published by the Urban Institute Health Policy Center, the uninsured rate for adults between the ages of 18 and 64 has fallen by 43.8 percent since September of 2013. That means 15.5 million Americans who didn’t have health insurance before the law went into effect are now covered. 

On her website, Hillary Clinton proudly declares she wants to “defend the Affordable Care Act and build on it to slow the growth of out-of-pocket costs.”

In an interesting wrinkle, Clinton is now feeling pressure to move further to the left on health care. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaigned on a platform of single-payer universal coverage. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the massive labor union that endorsed Clinton, adopted a resolution formally calling for “a publicly-financed single-payer system that will recognize healthcare as a human right.”

When it comes to health care, it sure looks like the Republican-controlled Congress is stuck fighting the last war against ObamaCare while the public, Democrats, and even Trump are moving on.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, “We The People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers’ Vision of America” published by Crown, is out now.

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