Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are bragging because health insurers are abandoning some individual markets, leaving consumers with no choices. It’s as if the Republicans have forgotten they’re in charge now.
Aside from dodging responsibility for the disruptions in people’s lives, Republicans also are trying to dodge this reality: Their actions and inaction sabotaged the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. They caused the uncertainty cited by insurers such as Anthem Inc. when it announced that it would leave the Ohio market next year.
The Republican-created uncertainty is also being cited for large premium increases in some states. Kentucky has extended the deadline for insurers to file individual rates for next year from May 17 to June 21 and says the rates will be posted June 30. Anthem is the sole individual health insurer on the exchange in 59 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Anthem attributed the Ohio decision to worries that President Donald Trump will follow through on his threat to end subsidies that offset the costs to insurers of covering low-income people. House Republicans had sued to stop the subsidies and won. Trump has not decided whether to continue the Obama administration’s appeal.
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Meanwhile, McConnell has come up with a plan for rushing through a health-care bill that Senate Republicans are drafting in secret with scant public scrutiny or debate.
“A group of guys in a back room somewhere,” as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., aptly described it, is making decisions about one-sixth of the economy without so much as a committee hearing. (By contrast, the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans complained was railroaded through by Democrats, was the subject of eight months of open and vociferous debate in 2009 and 2010. No Republicans voted for that historic bill, not on the basis of its content, but pursuing a political strategy enforced by McConnell.)
McConnell wants to limit the damage to the fewest news cycles possible because the bill that’s likely to emerge from the secret meetings will be ugly. It will give the richest Americans a big tax cut by depriving lower-income, older and sick Americans of access to affordable health care.
Unless what emerges from the Senate is vastly different from what the Republican House approved, the new health-care law will be especially devastating to Kentuckians and many of their hospitals and health-care providers.
The House bill went far beyond repealing the Obama health-care law to make drastic cuts in the Medicaid program, which covers the disabled and low-income elderly and children. A recent study found that adults in rural and small-town Kentucky are more dependent on Medicaid for their health care than their counterparts in almost any other state.
McConnell can talk all he wants about “relieving” people of the access to medical care they gained during the Obama years. The loss of that access and the economic repercussions will be on McConnell and his party.