September 08,2017

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ICYMI: Washington Post Op-Ed: Obamacare doesn’t deserve a bailout without real reforms

Since the day Obamacare became law — having passed with only support from Democrats — Republicans have worked to repeal the partisan law and replace it with patient-centered reforms. While the effort has been underway for more than seven years, only recently have we had a chance to make good on our promises and undo the harm Obamacare has inflicted on the American people. 

The Senate had an opportunity in July to finally repeal Obamacare and replace it with reforms that, among other things, would have put Americans back in charge of their health-care choices and placed Medicaid on a sustainable path for future generations. Admittedly, the replacement plan was far from perfect, and as is the case too often in Washington, the perfect became the enemy of the good. As a result, Obamacare remains the law of the land. 

Those who cheered for Senate Republicans to fail have been celebrating ever since, and we’re now hearing calls for bipartisan solutions. While most reasonable people would welcome a bipartisan outcome to this mess, the solutions proffered thus far would do little more than shore up the bad policies already in place with another slate of bad policies. We need legitimate, long-term reforms. 

Case in point: Some are working on an approach that amounts to little more than a congressional bailout of Obamacare, including pumping tens of billions of dollars into the already failing system in the form of cost-sharing reduction payments and reenacting a temporary reinsurance program included in Obamacare that has expired. Of course, they aren’t calling their support a “bailout,” but that’s essentially what it would be.

Setting aside the valid question of whether pumping more money into an already failing system would have a significant impact on already skyrocketing premiums under Obamacare, a no-strings bailout would be extremely short-sighted. Anyone looking for a historical precedent doesn’t have to look far. 

In 2015, after years of torment and agitation, Congress repealed the Medicare sustainable growth rate. Before that, patching the growth rate provided an annual display of political gamesmanship. Members of Congress were understandably willing to do just about anything to prevent a massive drop in Medicare physician payments, and leaders from both parties constantly used that to their advantage. 

Do we really want to create that kind of scenario for Obamacare? That’s precisely what we’ll get if we provide immediate funding to shore up Obamacare without significant reforms to the underlying system: A political bludgeon that Democrats will use for years to come to beat Republicans into submission on any number of issues. 

Many experts agree that these shortsighted bailouts will do almost nothing to either significantly reduce premiums or increase choices, and they certainly have no impact on the middle-class families purchasing health insurance outside of the exchanges with zero federal assistance. The best-case scenario will barely maintain the broken status quo. 

Of course, no one wants to sit idly by while our health-care system implodes even further. Action may well be necessary this year to protect American families from the failures of the current system. But any agreement to, for example, maintain Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies or payments to insurance companies should also include reforms such as relief for American families and job creators from the onerous mandates and taxes. And that’s just for starters. 

For years, I have heard from Utahns — as well as individuals and families throughout the country — about the challenges they have faced under this unworkable system: Premiums and health-care costs have skyrocketed year after year. Taxes have been imposed on the middle class. Patients have had fewer and fewer options when choosing providers or insurance plans. Essential Medicaid resources have been diverted away from our most vulnerable populations, making the program even more fiscally unsound. 

Obamacare has not improved over time, and it doesn’t work any better now than it did during the first few years of implementation. Without substantial reforms, people will continue to suffer. Rather than working toward an Obamacare bailout, the Senate should work to provide relief for Americans that can only come about with significant, long-term reforms to the health-care system. 


Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the committee with the largest jurisdiction in either House of Congress, which oversees more than 50 percent of the federal budget and has jurisdiction over large portions of the American healthcare system, including Medicare and Medicaid.