Faced with the public-opinion challenge of repealing Obamacare, which is popular, with alternatives that are wildly unpopular, Republicans long ago settled on the message that Obamacare has to be repealed because it is dying anyway. It is an argument that makes logical sense: A person might object less vociferously to being evicted from their home and moved into a rat-infested tenement if they’re told their home is about to collapse. Accordingly, President Trump has repeatedly said Obamacare is “dead” and “gone.”
In a town hall last night, House Speaker Paul Ryan repeated the talking point. “The status quo is not an option. Obamacare is not working,” he said, “We’ve got dozens of counties around America that have zero insurers left.”
It used to be true that dozens of counties lacked any insurer for the exchanges. This was not a good argument against Obamacare, since the lack of insurers was largely a result of the Trump administration deliberately driving them out. Nor was it a good argument for the Republican replacement, the largest effect of which was to slash funding for Medicaid, a solution not even plausibly related to the separate problems of the exchanges. But it was, at least, an argument for action of some kind.
At this point, that “fact” is no longer a fact. With the threat of repeal gone, insurers have filled in the remaining counties without a provider. At the moment there is one county, with 334 enrollees, lacking a provider. Not dozens. (Moderator Jake Tapper, who repeatedly grilled Ryan over his reluctance to denounce President Trump’s comments on race, did not take note of Ryan’s gross error.)
The Republican leadership remains committed to its plan, and Ryan’s official position is still that the House plan was great, and the only problem was the failure of the Senate to pass it. But the justification for that position has gone from tendentiously misleading to outright false, and he hasn’t bothered to come up with a rationale for it that’s even facially correct.