House Republicans pull health care bill
Seven years of Republican efforts to eradicate President Barack Obama‘s proudest domestic achievement ended Friday before a single vote was cast.
House Speaker Paul Ryan sensationally pulled his Obamacare repeal bill from the floor Friday afternoon, a day after President Donald Trump had threatened to walk away from health care reform if he didn’t get a vote.
“We came up short,” Ryan told reporters. “We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
Trump acknowledged there are many different groups in the GOP, meaning things aren’t as simple as having one party control both the White House, House and Senate.
The GOP health care bill would eliminate many of the taxes and eradicate the individual mandate imposed by Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act. Instead of the Obamacare subsidies that are tied to income and premiums, the GOP plan provides Americans with refundable tax credits based mainly on age to purchase health insurance.
Pundit: To negotiate from a position of strength you need a good command of the details (of whatever it is you are promoting) — Trump didn’t have that. All-in-all there wasn’t a good case that could be made for the bill and no conservatives were on-board.
Trump “absolutely, through executive action, could have tremendous interference to the point of literally stopping a train on its tracks,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of law and health policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Perhaps Trump’s easiest action — and the one that would produce the largest impact — would be to drop the administration’s appeal of a lawsuit filed by Republican House members in 2014. That suit, House v. Burwell, charged that the Obama administration was unconstitutionally spending money that Congress hadn’t formally appropriated, to reimburse health insurers who were providing coverage to working-poor policyholders — those earning between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty line.
More than half of people who purchase insurance in the health exchanges get the additional help, which reduces out-of-pocket health spending on deductibles and coinsurance. While that help for consumers is required under the law, the funding was not specifically included. (Tax credits for people with incomes up to four times the poverty level to help defray the cost of premiums are a separate program and were permanently funded in the ACA.)
In April, Federal District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in favor of the House Republicans. “Such an appropriation cannot be inferred,” she wrote of the payments, and insurer “reimbursements without an appropriation thus violates the Constitution.” However, Collyer declined to enforce her decision, pending an appeal to a higher court. That appeal was filed in July and is still months away from resolution.
If Trump wanted to seriously damage the ACA, he could simply order the appeal dropped, letting the lower court ruling stand, and stop reimbursing insurers who are giving deep discounts to half their customers. That move would wreak havoc, said Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute, a longtime opponent of the health law. The insurers would still have to provide the discounts, as required by law, he said, “but they’re no longer getting subsidies from the federal government to cover the cost. So they are going to be selling insurance to these people way below the cost of that coverage.”
Even those who support the law say that mismatch would effectively shut down the health exchanges, because insurers would simply drop out. A Trump administration “really could collapse the federal exchange marketplace and the state exchanges if they end cost-sharing” payments to insurers,” said Rosenbaum, who has been a strong backer of the health law. There is already some concern about the continuing viability of the exchanges after several large insurers, including Aetna and United HealthCare, announced they would be dropping out for 2017.
Another way Trump could undermine the health law would be by simply not enforcing its provisions, particularly the individual mandate that requires most people to have insurance. That requirement is supposed to ensure that healthy as well as sick people sign up, thus spreading the costs of people with high bills across a larger population. But “executive branch non-enforcement could make a real difference to the vitality of the exchanges going forward,” Bagley said. If healthy people don’t sign up, sick people would need to pay more money for their insurance.
Aside from inflicting damage to the exchanges, the administration could also affect the law’s operations by refusing to approve states’ changes to their Medicaid programs. States rely on federal regulators to sign off on changes large and small, including which citizens are eligible, to keep their Medicaid programs operating. “There are so many things that an administration that doesn’t want a program to work can do,” Rosenbaum said.
Perhaps most important, Cato’s Cannon says, is not whether Trump could single-handedly undo the health law, but whether he could undermine it enough to force Congress to take action. If Trump were to do just enough to cause the insurance exchanges to fail, he said, “that would put pressure on Congress … to reopen the law.”