By Don C. Brunell
The late Yogi Berra coined the phrase, "It's déjà vu all over again.” It is used extensively to describe political miscues.
Case in point: ObamaCare.
Recently, Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel wrote a column describing President Obama's failure with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “The vision of the president calling on his party members to-yet again-lay down their political lives for his 'signature' law was a reminder of how this disaster began,” Strassel wrote.
Unfortunately, Republicans, who now control Congress and the White House, may be poised to repeat the same mistakes Obama and Democrats made in 2010 when they jammed the ACA through Congress: Important sections unwritten and devoid of Republican input.
When the president signed the law on March 23, 2010, most members of Congress had no time to skim, let alone read the bill. It was 2,700 pages which changed by the minute. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted she was waiting to pass ACA to learn what was in it. That statement summarized the predicament of lawmakers, eroded public confidence and caused a strong backlash among voters.
President-elect Donald Trump and Republicans, holding the majority on Capitol Hill, now find themselves in the Democrats' shoes. They are poised to act swiftly to repeal Obamacare and replace it. The “It” is yet to be defined.
Democrats and Republicans must realize that making healthcare affordable and available is an American issue, not a political football. The stakeholders are not just party-line voters, but people from every circumstance in life and all parts of our nation.
Elected officials must bring all interests together and work diligently to find practical and affordable solutions. The goal needs to be keep what is working and thoughtfully design and implement new solutions to fix what is not.
It can't wait. Obamacare may fall of its own financial weight. Our federal government owes over $20 trillion, and the ACA subsides will reach $42.6 billion this year, which is up from $32.8 billion in 2016, the Center for Health and Economy reports.
According to the Washington Policy Center, 170,000 people in our state receive health insurance through the state exchange and most of these people receive federal subsidizes. Another 600,000 Washingtonians were placed in the expanded Medicaid program, where 90 percent of the costs are paid by federal taxpayers.
While Trump and GOP lawmakers are eager to fix healthcare, they must be surgical in their approach and sell workable strategies to the public.
It is possible. Washington lawmakers did it in the early 1980s.
At the time, the insurance gap was among the working poor – people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid, but in low-wage jobs offering no health insurance. In 2016, those individuals would earn between $12,000 and $24,000 yearly.
Employers and people with health insurance paid higher premiums. Providers had to raise rates to recover costs for the uninsured. Meanwhile, our Legislature struggled just to fund Medicaid.
Lawmakers, health experts, doctors, hospitals, insurers and employers worked together and came up with the Basic Health Plan (BHP). The legislation passed in 1987 and was fully implemented in 1993. Between 1999 and 2009, the BHP covered over a half million people.
The BHP had its share of problems. As expenses mounted, subsidized premiums rose and the waiting list grew, state budget cuts took a toll. However, the process used to develop it is one to emulate.
As Strassel concluded, “Long before ObamaCare cratered on the merits, it had failed in the court of public opinion – because of both the manner and the means by which it became law.”
Hopefully, that is a lesson learned.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst and former president of the Association of Washington Business.