Editorials

Editorial: Republicans should move on from Obamacare repeal

Sen. Jerry Moran jumps the tracks of the Senate subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017, to get around a large gathering of reporters as he arrives on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Jerry Moran jumps the tracks of the Senate subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18, 2017, to get around a large gathering of reporters as he arrives on Capitol Hill. AP

The Republican Party’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something — maybe now, maybe a few years from now — stumbled to a predictable stalemate Tuesday.

The GOP hates Obamacare. But after seven years of debate, Republicans still can’t agree on how to make it better.

The latest exercise in embarrassing futility began Monday night when Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas rejected a revised version of an Obamacare replacement.

Moran’s statement effectively killed the measure, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

The bill was a mess. It failed to correct many of the problems of the Affordable Care Act while enacting steep cuts in planned spending for Medicaid. It was drafted largely in secret, then crammed with one-time goodies in an effort to buy senators’ votes.

Moran made the right choice. He reached his decision after well-publicized town hall meetings in Kansas, where constituent after constituent implored the senator to consider the adverse impacts of the Senate bill. Hospital officials and physicians told him the same thing.

But Moran’s defection forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to offer yet another plan: straight Obamacare repeal in two years, with a replacement to be figured out later.

The Kansas Republican jumped at that option, leading to a morning of which-side-are-you-on confusion. Many Kansans who know Moran will recognize the feeling.

Other senators were more skeptical. If Obamacare were repealed, they knew, it wouldn’t be replaced for decades — the issues are simply too complex for ideologically divided lawmakers. Finding agreement on a new framework for comprehensive health care reform would be virtually impossible.

Worse, McConnell’s plan would have repealed only part of Obamacare.

Partial repeal would mean millions of Americans would lose access to affordable coverage. Insurance providers would face calamity. Health care providers would face years of uncertainty.

It was too much for other GOP senators to contemplate. By mid-afternoon, three said they would oppose straight repeal, quickly killing off McConnell’s alternative.

For now — barring another change of heart, which is always possible — Obamacare remains largely intact.

While it’s tempting for Democrats and Obamacare supporters to gloat, they should resist the urge. The ACA remains deeply unpopular with many Americans.

Congress must address short-term problems with Obamacare. Some insurance exchanges, primarily in rural areas, are in trouble because rural counties are home to sicker, older patients.

We think a public option should be made available on health exchanges with just one provider or none at all. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has made a similar suggestion.

Other compromises may be possible.

Don’t expect President Donald Trump’s help. On Tuesday, he declared he won’t own this problem.

So, lawmakers of good faith must look harder for common ground. That search can begin now because the effort to repeal Obamacare appears to be over.

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