President Trump and Republicans in Congress have sent mixed messages about their repeal and replacement plan for Obamacare. Trump suggested this weekend that Americans could have to wait until 2018 to see a plan hit the floor of Congress. That’s all well and good, but if the latest enrollment figures are anything to go by, the GOP may not have much time to get this law off the books. Whether they do anything about the ACA or not, the market is going to collapse sooner than later.
Some are blaming the Trump administration for the decrease in enrollments; they decided to yank advertisements promoting the marketplace in the waning days before the deadline. But even if you take that into consideration, the 9.2 million individuals who signed up for an Obamacare plan this year is well below government projections.
Those aren’t the final figures – states that run their own exchanges won’t have their numbers in until March – but they are a far cry from the 13.8 million figure we heard from an optimistic Obama administration. Who knows? Maybe those 11 states will surprise us next month with some gangbuster numbers. But if things don’t turn up sharply, some of the biggest participants in the market are going to be leaving for greener pastures.
Once the nation’s largest insurance companies start pulling out of the marketplace, Obamacare is finished. Unfortunately, if this happens before Republicans have a chance to replace it with something better, we are looking at a chaotic period where millions of people will be stranded without health insurance. No one – not the GOP, not Trump, and certainly not the Democrats – wants to see that happen. But that’s what will happen if we don’t hurry this along.
Some media reports indicate that Republicans are now interested in merely tweaking the Affordable Care Act rather than repealing it altogether. That’s a dangerous path. But they have talked themselves into a corner by promising that pre-existing conditions will be covered and by simultaneously promising that the individual mandate will be history.
In an interview with Meet the Press last weekend, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Republicans were still committed to full repeal.
“If you’re going to repair the American health care system, and fix its problems, you have to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better: Patient-centered health care,” Ryan said. “Somewhere along the line there was confusion that we were going to take the Obamacare architecture and, you know, tinker at the margins and repair it. You can’t. It is a collapsing law.”
That’s an encouraging sign.
But if Republicans wait this out too much longer, “collapsing” is going to turn into “collapse.”
And guess which party is going to get blamed for it?