The struggle over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, ended a crucial round last month, when, in the Senate, three Republicans–Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lisa Murkowski–joined Democrats in voting down the so-called “skinny repeal.” Despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and despite the president’s scornful goading, the GOP has at long last stopped in its tracks: it has heard, from far off in the hinterland, the howl of the people. To repeal the Affordable Care Act, to discontinue its hallmark features, has become politically unacceptable in the US.
Partisan representations of the bill notwithstanding, the guarantee of affordable medical coverage for all, which is at the heart of “Obamacare,” has become a grail to the American people. Kate Zernike and Abby Goodnough of the New York Times co-authored a fascinating article describing how a sea-change in popular sentiment, running increasingly in support of the ACA, has occurred along with its threatened repeal. First-hand understanding of the bill’s provisions and benefits are driving Americans to an acceptance of universal coverage that makes the GOP’s top-down rhetoric a tougher sell. Americans do not want to return to the “bad old days” when insurers could turn sick or at-risk customers away. They do not want millions of Americans who are now insured to lose the benefits guaranteed them under the ACA.
Politically, then, the President and the GOP face the issue of how to Affordable Care their own. (After all, it has the makings of a smashing success!) During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump wasn’t at the forefront of those calling for the ACA’s repeal. He was the reasonable candidate then, wanting to find solutions that would remedy the defects of the legislation. During the debates, he suggested eliminating state-level restrictions to allow insurers to create pools across state lines. Ironically, President Trump has since decided that scapegoating others is essential to his popularity, a conviction that has led him away from an approach to health care that was more constructive and reasoned. Has the President never heard the saying, “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold”?
Were I a Republican, I would vow never to utter the word “Obamacare” again. Members of the Republican Party stand to become heroes by repairing the Affordable Care Act and re-branding it to heighten its associations with compassion and inclusion. Forget about wreaking revenge on Obama. Listen to the people. Collaborate with Democrats. Deliver a shared triumph to the nation. It will matter far more than any partisan loss.