health care

Democrats Move to Defend Obamacare From Trump, Again

Pelosi didn’t waste time after the administration called for judicial destruction of the Affordable Care Act. Photo: J Scott Applewhite/AP

In what was either serendipity or an extremely rapid response, House Democrats unveiled a new bill that shored up elements of the Affordable Care Act that the Trump administration has been messing with, with excellent timing, as Dylan Scott reports:

House Democrats are rolling out a plan to strengthen the Affordable Care Act that would expand federal insurance subsidies and reverse the Trump administration’s attacks on the health care law — but avoids the party’s internal fight about more ambitious proposals to extend health coverage.

Democrats released the bill the day after the Trump administration said it wanted the entire health care law thrown out by the courts, underscoring the striking divide between the two parties on an issue at the top of voters’ minds.

The legislation covers a number of perceived weaknesses that have appeared in the structure of Obamacare, including some engineered by the administration:

* It expands the tax credits available under the law, both reducing costs for lower-income families and expanding eligibility so middle-class Americans can receive federal assistance.

* It creates a national reinsurance program to offset high medical bills for insurers and thereby keep premium increases in check.

* It rolls back Trump actions expanding skimpier health insurance plans, giving states the freedom to undermine the law’s benefits requirements, and cutting enrollment outreach funding.

Pelosi reportedly plans to roll out these proposals in individual bites, forcing House Republicans to cast votes augmenting their opposition to the increasingly popular health-care program (none of this is likely to see the light of day in Mitch McConnell’s Senate). The politics of it are obvious: By changing its position to support total elimination of Obamacare (without even a replacement), the administration has given Democrats a fresh opportunity to remind Americans that Republicans have no real plan for health care other than destroying protections they previously enjoyed. This, of course, is the very argument Democrats used to great effect during the midterm election campaign.

Team Trump’s move on Obamacare is looking more and more like a major unforced error. They had been trying to reframe the health-care issue for 2020 as one in which they drove a wedge between Democrats who supported or opposed controversial single-payer legislation — all the while warning of socialized medicine and higher taxes. Now Democrats can remain united in resisting attacks on the status quo instead of appearing to be the disrupters:

“This is an expansive package of proposals that would make ACA coverage more affordable and reduce the number of people uninsured, but it is not a replacement for the far-reaching plans for universal coverage like Medicare for all,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, told HuffPost. “With Democrats proposing to solidify and build on the ACA and the Trump administration still trying to repeal it, the health care battle lines for 2020 are pretty clear.”

And if Democratic presidential candidates don’t get too loud and contentious about their differences over how to achieve universal coverage, that’s probably the where the battle lines will stay.

Democrats Move to Defend Obamacare From Trump, Again