Medicaid, protections for pre-existing conditions popular
ditions – even after long trying to repeal those protections.
These safeguards, once isolated to a handful of states, were enacted nationwide for the first time through the health care law and guaranteed by financial assistance to help lowand moderate-income consumers buy health coverage.
Now President Trump and other GOP leaders, many still smarting from their failed push to repeal the law last year, no longer even make a pretense of offering an alternative to the current law.
“The American people have given us divided government,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday, acknowledging that repeal is no longer an option. “I think the message is: ‘Figure out what you can do together, and do it.’ ”
To be sure, antipathy to the health care law remains high among many conservatives.
The two political parties still hold starkly divergent views of where to take American health care, with many Democrats eyeing ways to open up the government Medicare or Medicaid programs to more people, and Republicans looking for ways to scale back government regulation of health care, as the Trump administration has already started to do.
Republican leaders also continue to harbor dreams of dramatically scaling back federal spending on Medicaid and Medicare.
Trump’s own 2019 budget envisions hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid.
GOP governors and state attorneys general, meanwhile, continue to push a lawsuit, backed by the Trump administration, to wipe out the health care law and its pre-existing condition protections nationwide. The case is currently before a federal judge in Texas.
Such retrenchments have long been at odds with public opinion.
Even when the health care law itself could barely get the support of four in 10 Americans, polling by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation showed that as many as 75 percent of Americans liked its key components, such as expanding Medicaid and prohibiting insurers from turning away sick consumers.
Medicaid, in particular, has proven remarkably popular, even among Republicans.
But until this week’s elections, it was unclear what price Republican politicians would pay if they tried to take these protections away. The verdict was devastating. Voters on Tuesday punished GOP lawmakers like New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, a lead architect of the House Republican plan in 2017 to roll back requirements that health plans offer comprehensive coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
MacArthur was among more than two dozen House Republicans who lost their seats Tuesday.
In Texas, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, another leading proponent of scaling back protections for pre-existing conditions, managed to hold on to his seat against a spirited challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
But Cruz prevailed by slightly more than 200,000 votes, whereas the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Texas beat his Democratic opponent by more than 1.1 million votes.
“Sen. McConnell has said out loud what many Republicans have been thinking,” said Jennifer Young, a veteran GOP lobbyist and senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. “Many Republicans are more than ready to shift their attention to other health care priorities.”
Elsewhere, Republican politicians such as Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts simply tried to get out of the way of popular pushes to expand Medicaid coverage.
Ricketts, who once railed against the Affordable Care Act and resisted expanding Medicaid coverage in Nebraska, never took a position on this year’s Medicaid ballot measure. It passed 53 percent to 47 percent.
In Idaho and Utah, Medicaid measures won 61 percent and 54 percent of the vote, respectively.
Idaho’s measure got an 11th-hour boost when the outgoing Republican Gov. Butch Otter endorsed it, noting: “We cannot continue to let hardworking Idahoans go without health care.”
With Democratic gubernatorial victories in Kansas and Wisconsin on Tuesday, it is now possible that as many as five more states could soon be expanding Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
That would leave only a dozen holdouts, mostly clustered in the Deep South.
Whether those states will embrace universal coverage for their residents is unclear. But the tide of public opinion is moving away from those who continue to resist it.
Exit polls Tuesday showed that nearly six in 10 voters said it should be the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage, a core principle of the law Obama signed eight years ago.
The exit polling tracks with other surveys that have shown the share of Americans backing such a role for the federal government has increased steadily over the last decade.
“Republicans are going to find that they oppose coverage at their own political peril,” warned Brad Woodhouse, executive director of Protect Our Care, a liberal advocacy group formed last year to fight GOP efforts to roll back the health care law.