National Report from Washington—A monthly Series By Rob Weiner and Ben Lasky
This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report on the Alexander-Murray healthcare bill, a rare bipartisan compromise that continues Affordable Care Act subsidies guaranteeing millions of middle class and lower income Americans the ability to have health insurance. It’s a recognition that the last seven years of “repeal and replace Obamacare” will not happen, because there has been no “replace”. It’s also a recognition that neither party really wants to go to the polls denying people healthcare, or failing to address the crisis of rising premiums. The mandatory CBO report found that the bill would cover more people and still cut the deficit. Clinton and Trump voters alike, as well as everybody else in the US, all go to the hospital, see their doctors for checkups and need medical attention. The bill restores the subsidies for that President Trump abolished by executive order on Oct.12.
For over a century, since FDR and Truman, through calls by Claude Pepper, Ted Kennedy, George HW Bush, Bob Dole, and Clinton, America’s workers have supported a national health plan. While the current one isn’t perfect, it’s certainly the beginning, and one that can be fixed rather than torn apart. The two years that Alexander-Murray provide gives the time to repair the overall bill.
It is hard to tell where President Trump stands on the issue. Unfortunately, after first intervening to attain the Alexander-Murray bill – Alexander said he Trump called him several times to push him to do the bill – President Trump has now succumbed to feelings of some House in the leadership that nothing should be done, and the healthcare system should be allowed to continue to explode. In an Oct. 13 tweet, Trump wrote, “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!” This was after he had said that Alexander-Murray is “a good first step.”
This is confusing, since on Oct. 18, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the co-sponsor of the bill, told Salon, “Trump completely engineered the plan that we announced yesterday.” Adding more confusion to the mix, that same day, Trump tweeted, “I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.”
In addition, the president, in an effort to block new enrollments for the Affordable Care Act, has removed 12 hours of Sunday enrollment and cut 90 percent of funding for advertising as to how to use the open enrollment. The open enrollment period has also been cut in half. In order to receive benefits of the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1, 2018, Americans must sign up between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, 2017. Last year, 6.4 million people signed up for Obamacare during the open enrollment period. Experts say the barriers could cost 1.1 million enrollees this year alone.
Now the option has been circulated of rather than a standalone bill, include Alexander-Murray in a tax or appropriations package including other legislation near the end of the year. NBC Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd said this quiet inclusion is the likely scenario. But nothing is certain and workers can have a huge impact with their voices. The gridlock in Congress can be broken. It will require a major push by Americans from both sides to bring the White House both parties in Congress to enact this bipartisan deal, and not include “poison pills” from either side to kill it.
The Alexander-Murray bill is an interim solution to make the changes needed to the healthcare system. American workers are depending on them.
Robert Weiner is a former White House spokesman and was Chief of Staff of the House Aging Committee and Health Subcommittee. Ben Lasky is senior policy analyst at Solutions for Change and Robert Weiner Associates.