Opinion: Trump’s call to repeal Obamacare is a trap for GOP

CLAREMONT, NEW HAMPSHIRE - NOVEMBER 11:  Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign event on November 11, 2023 in Claremont, New Hampshire. The defense is scheduled to start presenting its case on Monday in Trump's fraud case. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign event on November 11, 2023 in Claremont, New Hampshire.Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Patrick T. Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank and advocacy group based in Washington, DC. He is also a former senior policy adviser to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. Follow him on Twitter. The views expressed in this piece are his own. View more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

One of the biggest self-inflicted political wounds of former President Donald Trump’s first years in office was how the Republican Party handled health care. It would later be overshadowed by the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic, two impeachments and political violence on January 6, but it’s worth remembering as well.

After years of railing against the Affordable Care Act, and pledging to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” Trump endorsed a Republican effort to unwind the health care law in a rushed and haphazard process.

Patrick T. Brown

Patrick T. BrownCourtesy Patrick T. Brown

Trust in the GOP’s health care plan sank, the lack of preparation became clear, and after the late Sen. John McCain gave a final thumbs-down to the effort in the summer of 2017, the party largely slunk away from the topic.

This is a mistake. Health care spending makes up about 18% of our national GDP (by some estimates, twice as much per person as peer nations), and the complexity and expense of the US health care system weighs on families’ minds. Republicans who allow Democrats to be the one party associated with solutions on health care will find — as in the midterms of 2018 — that the lack of a proactive approach to health care will be punished by voters.

For his part, a recent post on TruthSocial suggests Trump is still interested in returning to the fight to repeal Obamacare. “The cost of Obamacare is out of control, plus, it’s not good Healthcare. I’m seriously looking at alternatives,” he wrote. The response from senators who represent different parts of the Republication coalition — from Maine’s Susan Collins and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy to Ohio’s J.D. Vance — demonstrate how little appetite there is among most elected Republicans for revisiting that fight.

Indeed, while the GOP is fragmented in all sorts of ways, proactive and positive conversations about how to make the US health care system better are quietly occurring away from cable news spotlights.

From scholars like Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity President Avik Roy to Ed Dolan of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-rooted think tank in Washington, DC, the conversation has decidedly shifted from repealing Obamacare to figuring out what to do next. The GOP should welcome that pivot.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is pursued by reporters as he walks to his office at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 13, 2023. (Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images)

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There are two tracks along which a Republican approach to health care that goes beyond a content-free strategy of “repeal and replace” is developing. The one that has the best chance of appealing to the conservative coalition of today embraces a version of supply-side thinking for the 21st century. “Supply-side” thinking gets a bad rap, associated with tax cuts and theories of “trickle-down economics.”

But in an expensive sector of the economy, like health care, taking steps to increase the supply of options facing consumers can actually help the market function more smoothly. And this way of thinking can appeal to traditional Republicans and more populist types as well. Applying classic conservative principles of a limited government and appreciating the power of markets should mean repealing some of the policies that are in the way of a supply-side approach to health care.

Part of the reason prices for health care services are high is because of anti-competitive behavior by hospitalsdrug makersphysicians and health systems, who know that limiting supply and competition in the industry is a safe bet for increasing profits. As a business strategy, it’s logical, but it doesn’t mean policymakers should play along.

One of the most egregious examples of this thinking is “Certificate of Need” laws, a relic of the 1970s that require new health care facilities to obtain permission from state agencies, who are often influenced by incumbent stakeholders, to open. As Aubrey Wursten of the Independent Women’s Forum recently reported, only 15 states have fully repealed laws that restrict competition in health care in this way.

There are other examples of policy-created impingements on allowing the health care market to work better. As policy analyst Robert Orr wrote, fears of a “physician surplus” lead to an artificial cap on medical school enrollments.

A poster in support of nurses hangs at a nurses station on a Covid-19 patent care floor at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Hospital on January 6, 2021 in the Willowbrook neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. - Deep within a South Los Angeles hospital, a row of elderly Hispanic men in induced comas lay hooked up to ventilators, while nurses clad in spacesuit-looking respirators checked their bleeping monitors in the eerie silence. The intensive care unit in one of the city's poorest districts is well accustomed to death, but with Los Angeles now at the heart of the United States' Covid pandemic, medics say they have never seen anything on this scale. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

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In 2020, he found that “the number of practicing physicians per person in the United States is lower than in just about any other developed country.” On top of that, physicians groups like the American Medical Association lobby against laws that would allow nurses and physician’s assistants to perform a wider array of routine tasks, ensuring less competition for these procedures.

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Policymakers should push for greater competition by allowing skilled nurses and physicians assistants to perform routine tasks, as well as exploring greater funding for seats in medical schools, revisiting the length and structure of medical schools or allowing more medical professionals from overseas to practice in the US.

More recently, the Affordable Care Act accelerated a growing wave of hospital consolidations and anti-competitive behavior from major health systems. Republicans, traditionally the party that tended to defer to big business, have increasingly signaled frustration at hospitals and doctors’ groups they see as on the wrong side of Covid-19 policies and the culture war.

Supporting efforts, like the bipartisan legislation from Republican Reps. Michael Burgess from Texas, Drew Ferguson from Georgia, and Democratic Rep Debbie Dingell from Michigan to investigate the effects of these mergers should be an easy lift for many Republicans, even the most politically risk-averse ones.

The second track where Republican health care policy thinking is developing is a long-term project. A recent report by the Washington-based consultancy Baron Public Affairs traces some of the health care ideas and principles percolating among the so-called “New Right.” As evidenced by Vance’s interest in making childbirth more affordable, younger and more ideologically flexible, Republicans are looking for ways to make health care more family-friendly.

Their assessment of trends among younger conservatives suggests a growing realization that even with insurance, health care costs and complexity causes too many headaches for too many Americans. As the report notes, “A straightforward step toward improving health care for workers and their families could be making the health care experience — especially billing and customer service — simpler and easier to understand.”


This would require more aggressive https://sisipkan.com regulation and willingness to buck the interests of the health care industry than most elected Republicans have the stomach for now.

Even some of the more modest pro-competition moves face the headwinds of a status quo bias and the unavoidable reality that major industry groups for policies that push costs upward without making health care better — and those groups tend to be generous campaign donors.

America’s convoluted system of health insurance and health care could stand a ground-up reform, but as the political backlash to the — in all, fairly modest — reforms in the Affordable Care Act suggest, that day will be a very long time coming.

In the meantime, Republicans will suffer politically if they return to the messaging of repealing Obamacare. And more importantly, health care will continue to be an albatross around their neck if they aren’t able to offer some solutions that can make finding and paying for health care less of a pain in the neck for individuals and families.

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