"I don't mean any disrespect, but Obamacare sucks," said U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy last fall, back when he was making folksy commercials to promote his Senate candidacy. Of course, not having health insurance sucks, too. Receiving health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Medicaid expansion, only to have it snatched away? Sucks. Massive premium hikes for the elderly? Sucks. Not getting the health care you need, being forced to use emergency rooms for basic treatment, and having to choose bankruptcy if you want to stay alive? Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.
Another thing that sucks, according to the American Medical Association, AARP, some major conservative groups, almost all congressional Democrats and a growing number of GOP legislators, is the "American Health Care Act," the GOP's Obamacare alternative rolled out recently. Among the reasons for such widespread opposition: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the act would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million next year alone. That's three times Louisiana's population.
Despite President Donald Trump's promise last November that his health care revamp would result in "better health care, much better, for less money," the CBO estimates average premiums would go up between 15 and 20 percent in the next two years. And lest we forget, Trump's told The Washington Post his plan would provide health insurance for all Americans. It doesn't, not by a long shot. That sucks, too.
Kennedy was lukewarm on the GOP plan in an interview with local radio host Jeff Crouere. "It's not perfect," Kennedy said. "It's got some holes in it" — and that was before the CBO issued its report. The state's senior senator, Bill Cassidy, a physician, was even more critical of the plan, telling CNN flatly, "That's not what President Trump proposed. That's not what Republicans ran on."
Kudos to Cassidy for candor, but his comment raises the question: What did Republicans run on? Officially it was "repeal and replace" Obamacare, but only now do we see what "replace" means. Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, the GOP has vowed to "rip it out by the roots" (in the words of former House Speaker John Boehner). Judging from the response to the proposed American Health Care Act, it seems that nowhere during that process did Republicans concern themselves with a better replacement. Cassidy — again, to his credit — proposed his own "Patient Freedom Act," which would have let states keep the ACA if they liked. That's not in the American Health Care Act.
Gov. John Bel Edwards joined other governors in asking Congress to continue Medicaid expansion, which has allowed 405,000 additional Louisianans to receive health coverage — and saved the state millions. The GOP proposal would convert Medicaid dollars to block grants, which would adversely affect America's poorest and neediest.
For years, Republicans have sworn they could deliver a better health care plan than the ACA. If the American Health Care Act is the best they can do, well, to borrow Kennedy's phrase, that really sucks.