Health Care Requires Bipartisan Reform

Johan Cavert, Contributing Writer

In a stunning flop last week, Republicans failed to pass a replacement to the Affordable Care Act that was expected to sail through a Republican-controlled Congress. Such a remarkable loss provides a rare opportunity for bipartisan cooperation at a time when such action is sorely needed. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have acknowledged that the ACA needs to be repaired in order to reduce rising premiums and incentivize insurance companies to join the marketplace to increase competition. After a terribly divisive presidential campaign and six years of congressional gridlock, health care reform could be the first step to the bipartisan collaboration that is necessary for American democracy to function.  

As a first step, both parties must admit the failures and missteps they took in their attempts to address an immensely complicated and divisive social issue. After years of political argument, the American public now realizes how difficult health care reform is. They deserve a solid policy proposal, not some slapdash partisan mockup. Democracy is meant to be messy and difficult and is predicated on compromise. That requires a good faith effort and mutual cooperation.                                             

After making their opposition to Obamacare a central tenet of their party platform, Republicans’ astounding inability to replace the ACA was humbling. Following weeks of discussion that began as soon as President Donald Trump was elected, leadership settled on a replacement bill, the American Health Care Act, in early March. Supporters lauded it for its estimated reduction of $337 billion from the national deficit in 10 years and its elimination of the ACA’s mandate that all individuals have health care.

Despite some support, opposition to the bill was strong. A recent Quinnipiac poll indicated that only 17 percent of Americans held a favorable opinion of the law. It was harangued in the press and was subject to massive grassroots protests for failing to protect particularly vulnerable populations and for increasing the number of uninsured people by an estimated 24 million. House Republicans, despite holding a significant majority, were unable to appease both the moderate members of their party and the far-right Freedom Caucus, causing House leadership to pulled the bill from the floor without a vote after it became clear it could not pass.

The defeat of the AHCA provides Congress with a unique opportunity. With both parties humiliated and divided by recent losses, compromise has become a more appealing — and necessary — option. Despite Trump’s assertions after the bill failed, Republicans never consulted Democrats on the legislation, going so far as to lock it in a private room in the Capitol in the weeks leading up to its introduction. Their assumption that they could rely on their own caucus alone to repeal the ACA was drastically wrong. But the Trump presidency is still in its early stages. There is time for the president to salvage some of his image if he can broker a mature and meaningful political win, especially on such a central issue to the Republican electoral platform.

Republican legislators lost because they promised a fantasy. No bill could possibly reduce premiums, increase the number of insured people, eliminate the individual mandate and allow consumers more choice in choosing their provider. Democrats, too, must acknowledge their past partisan mistakes and come to the table ready to compromise. The 2009 passage of the ACA was a legislative success, but it was rammed through Congress on a strict party-line vote. That gave Republicans the opportunity to oppose it unilaterally, demonizing it as dangerous and socialist. Republican opposition to the ACA was so rampant that support for the bill only became apparent when it looked like Republicans might cut it. The lesson from 2009 and 2017 is the same. Single-party support for major legislation only leads to partisan warfare.

Both sides have signaled a desire to work together on health care. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has repeatedly expressed his willingness to work with Republicans to fix the ACA. After the collapse of the AHCA, Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters that Republicans would also be willing to work with moderate Democrats in the future. These statements show that bipartisanship is possible and has become even more likely after the recent Republican fiasco. Partisan ideology and grievances should be set aside in order to fix a flawed health care system and start the larger process of healing the divided world of American politics.