News and Tribune

June 3, 2013

HOWEY: Obamacare and the Republican time warp

By BRIAN HOWEY
Indiana columnist

INDIANAPOLIS —

Obamacare is coming! Obamacare is coming! If you're a Democrat, you're looking over your shoulder heading into the 2014 Affordable Care Act installation (and mid-term elections) and pointing out that people with pre-existing conditions will be covered, there will no longer be annual limits for coverage received, and that college kids can stay on their parents' plan until age 27.

If you're a Republican, Obamacare is the Moore, Okla., tornado. It is an abomination that is keeping jobless rates unacceptably high as uncertain employers refuse to expand.

“Employers can't afford ObamaCare's mandates and penalties,” said U.S. Rep. Luke Messer as the House voted on a repeal last week. “They're scaling back the hours of their employees as a result.” U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski called it a “train wreck.”

They were responding to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D- MT., and an architect and supporter of the ACA, who called the Oct. 1 implementation of the health exchanges  “a huge train wreck coming.” 

Is it a “train wreck?” Lawrence Kocot of the Brookings Institute observes, “It probably depends on what type of railroad one was expecting. No implementation is without challenges and this one will be particularly rough given the size and scope. The real measure of success is how many people actually enroll in this new benefit and get the subsidy for which they qualify.”

This latest Republican angst came earlier this month after the House voted for the 37th time to repeal Obamacare, prompting thoughts of Albert Einstein's observation that “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is a definition of “insanity.”

What Republicans don't talk about is the historic missed opportunity the party had for six years between 2001 and 2007, with President George W. Bush in the White House and GOP majorities in Congress. All of the health care problems that Doc Bowen and President Reagan found in 1986 and attempted to address in 1988, that First Lady Hillary Clinton tried to fix in 1993 — the bankruptcies after catastrophic illnesses, people denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, the skyrocketing premiums for families and businesses large and small —were all there and festering.

Republicans, instead of installing market-based reforms, marched off to two Asian wars that cost $1 trillion, and opted for the largest entitlement expansion since the Great Society with Bush's 2004 Medicare drug plan.

Into this gaping void came Obamacare. 

A friend of mine who voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney, administers a 700-employee retirement center and had considered allowing his workforce to go on to the exchange. He has since decided to provide insurance. “It's the new normal,” he said, adding that the cost increases will be passed on to consumers. “Costs are going to go up.”

The current Republican rhetoric finds the party trapped in a time warp. Obamacare  fueled the rise of the Tea Party. But something stunning happened in the intervening two election cycles: President Obama was reelected with 53 percent of the vote.  Despite his yea vote, Joe Donnelly was reelected in 2010 and then won a Senate seat. 

In two election cycles Republicans have failed to retake the U.S. Senate because they nominated undisciplined candidates like Richard Mourdock who fanned the flames against Obamacare, but then self-destructed.

The House can vote and vote and vote to repeal Obamacare, but it's not going to happen.

Here we find another disconnect like we did on the gun background checks (83 percent supported it in the April Howey Politics Indiana Poll) while Hoosier Republicans lined up against the measure.

With all the inflammatory Republican rhetoric against Obamacare, you probably didn't know that in last December's Indiana Poll by Ball State's Bowen Center for Public Affairs, 81 percent favored ensuring coverage for everyone; 89.9 percent for no pre-existing conditions; 77.2 percent for insuring offspring up to age 27; and 63.5 percent for the individual mandate. 

Obamacare is poised for a series of new mileposts in the coming seven months, on its way to full implementation on Jan. 1, 2014. The Obama administration is scrambling to install insurance “exchanges” in all but 16 states and the District of Columbia, including one in Indiana. Beginning on Oct. 1 individuals and small businesses can buy insurance on these exchanges.

And millions of Americans and businesses who don't buy insurance will face fines for not doing so. Many younger, healthy individuals will opt to pay a $95 fine. If your employer doesn't offer insurance, you will be able to buy it directly in the Health Insurance Marketplace. 

Indeed, Obamacare has created a smorgasbord of plans. In our neighborhood, Gov. Mike Pence has opted to put Indiana in a federally operated exchange. Kentucky will run its own exchange. Ohio has opted for a hybrid of the two, partnering with the feds.

But the fact is, in the polarizing political environment we live in today, Obamacare is going to be politicized no matter what happens.

In watching Obamacare pass in 2010, I saw a needed reform turn into a loaded up Christmas tree, a sprawling law bound to have all sorts of unintended consequences along with the good.

Indiana Republicans are fighting in a time warp, in two elections they've already lost.

 

The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.