Trump, GOP agree: ObamaCare helps us

Trump, GOP agree: ObamaCare helps us
© Greg Nash

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE and Senate Republicans believe ObamaCare will re-emerge as an explosive political issue before the November elections.

At a private strategy meeting on Thursday, Trump and Senate Republicans agreed that President Obama’s signature law could be a millstone around Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE’s neck.

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Republicans point to reports of rising premiums in arguing the public will turn firmly against the reform law. They say a fight over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could help elect a GOP president this fall and keep the Senate in Republican hands.

“I’m expecting big [premium] increases and for the Obama administration to try to hide them all the way through the election,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Wyo.), who attended the meeting with Trump, told The Hill in an interview.

“This healthcare law has been devastating to the Democratic Party.”

Trump’s rise in the GOP has been a shock to many senators, who have openly worried about their prospects with the wealthy businessman at the top of their ticket.

Republicans are defending 24 seats in this year’s election, including in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Florida — which Obama won in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

At Thursday’s meeting, where Trump largely reassured GOP senators that he is one of them, ObamaCare became a rallying point.

Senate GOP leaders at the meeting predicted that fast-rising health insurance premiums would spark a public backlash. Trump chimed in that he expects the administration might attempt to postpone the start of the ACA enrollment period until after the elections, according to lawmakers who attended.  

Though the administration delayed ObamaCare’s enrollment in 2014, healthcare experts say the chances of a delay this year are slim to none because it would require a new round of rule-making.

Insurers also are already in the middle of filing their proposed premium increases for next year, and those proposals have already begun to be made public. 

“It’s kind of too late to fundamentally change anything,” said Gary Claxton, an expert on the healthcare law at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But Trump’s comments highlight a piece of common ground for Republicans in the fall that he and the GOP senators are eager to exploit.

One in four people in a recent national poll by National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said ObamaCare has hurt them directly, compared to just 15 percent who said it has helped them.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that a growing number of doctors in New York don’t take any of the plans offered through ­ObamaCare, and many people who have them wind up feeling like second-class patients.

In rural America, the law is being blamed for stifling competition among insurers. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that in large swaths of the country, the law’s online insurance marketplace gives people only one option. That will be true in all of Alaska and Alabama, as well as parts of Arizona, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The other alarming trend is what experts project to be low double-digit increases in health insurance premiums for many plans. In states where insurance companies have already alerted officials to impending rate hikes, the numbers are daunting.

In Virginia, insurers participating in HealthCare.gov have discussed rate increases ranging from 9 to 37 percent, according to The Associated Press.

Marilyn Tavenner, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, predicted last month that people on ObamaCare should expect significant premium jumps for 2017.  

At a recent meeting with the editorial board for The Daily Sentinel, a paper covering Grand Junction, Colo., Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Bennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE (D-Colo.), who’s up for reelection, acknowledged that ObamaCare has not done much to cut costs.

He said health plans in western and central Colorado are “some of the most expensive healthcare on the planet.”

And he admitted there’s no easy fix in sight. 

“I don’t have answers for Grand Junction, but I’m aware of the problem,” he said. 

Democratic defenders of the law counter that these increases in premiums will be offset by subsidies.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughFormer Obama officials willing to testify on McCabe's behalf: report Trailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein 2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care MORE lauded the law in remarks Friday at a summit sponsored by Enroll America, a group that encourages people to sign up for subsidized healthcare.

He said despite Republican efforts to gut it, ObamaCare has “liberated millions of Americans from fear and provided them with a peace of mind.”

The percentage of uninsured adults dropped from 18 percent in the middle of 2013 to 11.4 percent at the start of 2015.

Clinton, Obama and other Democrats also are not afraid of having a political debate over repealing the ACA. They believe such a fight will backfire on the GOP, which sought to repeal the law in 2013 but ended up shutting the government down for 16 days.

“Senate Republicans are pushing to take away people’s healthcare and go back to a time when women could be charged more than men for healthcare, you could get kicked off your plan when you got sick, and people hit lifetime caps on coverage,” said Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

She said Republicans should spend less time “grandstanding and politicizing” and work with Democrats to push policies that would reduce premium increases.

Barrasso, however, expressed confidence that the healthcare fight will continue to help his party.  

He noted that Republicans have picked up 13 Senate seats, 11 governorships, 69 House seats and over 900 state legislative seats across the country since Democrats passed ObamaCare by party-line votes in 2009 and 2010.

“Costs continue to rise and insurers continue to leave state exchanges and cancel plans because ObamaCare has regulated them out of the market,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senate Committee.

Peter Sullivan contributed.