Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Trump, GOP won't escape blame if Obamacare fails

News of a possible bipartisan deal to fund the billions in subsidies to insurance companies that President Donald J. Trump scrapped just last week arrived less than an hour after we finished Tuesday's Roughly Speaking podcast, in which Jonathan Weiner, the healthy policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, predicted the possibility of such an agreement.

In the same episode, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh called Trump’s decision to cut off the subsidies “perverse,” “irrational,” and “stupid.” Frosh is among 17 attorneys general planning to sue the Trump administration over the subsidies.

There’s no surprise that news from Washington in the Trump era changes or develops by the hour. And, of course, House Republicans were quick to state their opposition to fixing Obamacare in any way and Trump sent mixed messages about the proposed bipartisan deal. He in one breath commended that effort and in the next continued to criticize the Affordable Care Act and call for it’s repeal.

Trump keeps up the criticism of Obamacare when it has been a benefit to many of the people who voted for him and for the most conservative of House Republicans, such as Maryland’s Andy Harris.

And the Obamacare-bashing continues when it’s obvious that, despite promises to do so, Trump can neither find the votes to repeal it nor come up with a better replacement. In the meantime, he commits acts of sabotage.

As Jay Hancock, senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News and former Sun columnist, pointed out in the podcast: If there’s one thing insurance companies hate, it’s uncertainty. Trump, a businessman millions of Americans thought would make a good president, has delivered uncertainty big-time, and with sinister timing.

Is that what Americans want?

While conventional wisdom holds that Trump and the Republicans must always oppose and decry Obamacare, their adherence to the repeal-and-replace line might come back to bite them.

Poll results, the most recent from the Kaiser Family Foundation, show that most Americans think it’s foolish to keep messing with Obamacare, a market-based insurance system credited with reducing the ranks of the nation’s uninsured by some 20 million people within the last five years.

The Kaiser poll found that 66 percent of Americans think Trump and Congress should do everything possible to stabilize the ACA insurance marketplace, not disrupt it.

Only 21 percent of adults agreed that Trump should let the law fail in an attempt to repeal and replace it.

If anything can be said to be clear today it’s this: Trump and Republicans have no better plan -- certainly none as comprehensive -- as the ACA, and Republican leaders must realize that blowing up the insurance markets is bad for business and bad for re-election in 2018.

By taking the action he did, Trump might have unleashed a blame contagion.

Before he acted last week to scrap the subsidies -- part of his effort to sabotage Obamacare and compound its problems -- he and the GOP could blame, as always, the ACA's failings on President Obama and the Democrats.

Now, after rolling his hand grenade into the health insurance markets just as enrollment was about to begin, Trump can be blamed for creating uncertainty, driving up premiums and pricing hundreds of thousands of Americans, including his supporters, out of their insurance.

And now there’s another layer of blame: If Republicans in Congress continue to resist bipartisanship and refuse to fund the subsidies, causing chaos in the markets and making enrollment unaffordable for many of their constituents, they’ll own a big piece of the ACA’s failure, too. As Hancock said in the podcast, Republican fingerprints are all over it now.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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