Today is an important day in the history of our country. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, the case that challenges the Obama administration’s granting of tax-payer funded subsidies to those enrolling in ObamaCare on the federal exchange.
The stakes are high. At least seven million Americans will be affected if SCOTUS finds in favor of King because their subsidies to purchase health insurance will be taken away. Without the subsidies, many of these people will become exempt from the law since the premiums will exceed 8% of their income.
How Should Republicans Respond?
Many people think a King victory will cause ObamaCare to implode. Without subsidies, at least seven million Americans who currently have health insurance are unlikely to retain it. Some of these will welcome freedom from the Individual Mandate, but others will demand reinstitution of their federal subsidies. How will Republicans and Democrats respond differently?
HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell was asked by Congress how the government would respond if they lose in court. She said there is “no Plan B”. That means the White House is prepared to accept the consequences if SCOTUS strikes down their subsidies on the federal exchange. Clearly, they think this will be politically favorable, even if millions of Americans are left without health insurance.
President Obama will surely demagogue the issue, blaming the loss of these subsidies on judicial malfeasance and Republican obstructionism. He’ll demand Congress “fix the law” by passing an amendment that “reinstitutes the original intent” to grant subsidies on the federal exchange. If this doesn’t work, he’ll demand states respond by setting up their own exchanges and public pressure may induce many Republican governors to cave in. The absence of a “Plan B” means Obama expects a loss will give him political leverage to force the issue.
Polls suggest he may be correct – unless Republicans are prepared to respond quickly with an alternative. A recent poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates finds that a majority of likely voters – 51 percent – wants Congress to propose a conservative alternative in response to such a ruling, while only 20 percent want Congress to negotiate fixes to ObamaCare.
The poll included 38 percent Democrats, 32 percent Republicans, and 30 percent Independents. The poll asked: “If the Supreme Court rules that the Obama administration has been illegally paying out ObamaCare subsidies in 36 states, what do you think Congress should do in response?”
- 26% – “Propose to effectively repeal and replace ObamaCare in those 36 states with a conservative alternative that aims to help people get coverage and reduce costs.”
- 25% – “Give the states a choice between ObamaCare and switching to a conservative alternative that aims to help people get coverage and reduce costs.”
- 20% – “Negotiate fixes to ObamaCare with the Obama White House in exchange for turning the subsidies back on.”
Jeffrey Anderson of The 2017 Project, writing in The Weekly Standard, summarizes the findings: “In other words, 51 percent of respondents favored having Congress propose a conservative alternative that deals with both costs and coverage – whether in the 36 states in question, or in every state that chooses the conservative alternative.”
Anderson also notes that among Independents and Republicans, support for a conservative alternative, and opposition to fixes, was even stronger. In all, 55 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans said Congress should propose a conservative alternative, while only 12 percent of Independents and 10 percent of Republicans said Congress should negotiate fixes in exchange for turning the subsidies back on.
Although SCOTUS will hear arguments today, their decision is not expected until June. This gives Republicans about three months to be prepared. They must respond with an immediate alternative that does not leave millions of Americans wondering how they will get healthcare insurance. If they fail to be prepared, they will leave the White House with a golden opportunity to force those states without exchanges to comply with establishing exchanges – or force Congress to amend the law.
Senator Ben Sasse (R – NE) proposes a temporary fix to avoid the chaos that might ensue with a King victory. He suggests a two-part strategy:
- First – New legislation that uses the 1985 “Cobra” law as a temporary model to protect those harmed by ObamaCare. Cobra offers workers who have lost their jobs the option to keep their health coverage for 18 months. This would give individuals losing insurance financial assistance for 18 transitional months.
- Second – Republicans need to unify around a specific set of constructive, longer-term solutions, and then turn the 2016 presidential election into a referendum on two competing visions of health care.
There are many excellent alternatives to ObamaCare as I have discussed in recent posts. Until Republicans can agree which is best, Senator Sasse’s proposal will bridge the gap and provide an immediate response to a King victory. However, Sasse warns that a course of inaction is nearly guaranteed to enshrine ObamaCare eternally. Nothing could be worse for the future of the American people.