There is no ‘Republican healthcare plan’—period
Once again, Trump is all but challenging the press to call his bluff. This time, it’s over his improbable and utterly unsubstantiated claim that Republicans will soon unveil a healthcare plan to rival Obamacare. There’s likely not a single journalist in Washington, D.C. who believes that boast. But will they say so? Will they set aside phony concerns for “balance” and announce clearly and without apology that Trump is lying, yet again? It’s paramount that they do.
Republicans, of course, have spent a decade trying to obliterate Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, the federally funded program that extended medical insurance to approximately 20 million previously uninsured people. Last week, Trump’s Department of Justice shocked many political observers, including Republicans in Congress, when it asked a federal appeals court to completely invalidate President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions, as well as Obamacare’s guarantee that children can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. A study by the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center indicates that as many as 20 million Americans could lose their coverage if the ACA is struck down.
“Tens of millions more with workplace plans could also be affected, as employers would be allowed to scale back certain medical benefits and people with preexisting conditions buying coverage on their own would no longer be guaranteed access to coverage at no extra cost,” the Washington Post reports.
“If we win on the termination of Obamacare, we will have a plan that’s far better than Obamacare, including, very importantly, preexisting conditions, which I’ve always been in favor of,” Trump told reporters last week, in a statement completely wrapped in fantasy, simply because there is no GOP plan. Period.
In a way, health care represents the Trump administration’s original gaslighting project. Just weeks after being sworn into office, Trump, with the help of GOP leaders, unleashed an unprecedented campaign of open deceit to sell the GOP alternative to Obamacare, as they readied their vote to kill the landmark legislation.
Republicans wouldn’t stop lying about the House bill that was up for a Senate vote in 2017. No, it did not protect people with preexisting conditions. It did not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It did not mean everyone would be charged the same for insurance. The bill wasn’t ”bipartisan.” And it most certainly did not allow “for every single person to get the access to the kind of coverage that they want,” as then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price claimed.
There’s a difference between occasionally shading the truth in order to try to win a political argument over health care, and just rushing over into the domain chronically lying. And that’s where the Trump administration has been since early 2017—chronic, unapologetic lying.
These days, Trump’s claim that Republicans will soon unveil a “spectacular” healthcare design to rival Obamacare runs so completely counter to everything that Beltway reporters understand and know to be factual that there’s really no reason for any of them take the claim seriously. Indeed, searching for the Republican healthcare alternative to Obamacare today is like looking for a mythical beast; it’s the Loch Ness Monster of public policy.
And yet the press still stumbles on this issue. Over the weekend, Jonathan Karl, while hosting ABC News’ This Week, asked acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney about the Republican plan to deal with health care if Obamacare were struck down by the courts. Specifically, Karl wanted to know if any Republican plan would cover people with pre-existing conditions. Mulvaney responded by insisting that the (nonexistent) Republican plan would basically cover everything Obamacare does, which makes no sense since Republicans have been trying to dismantle Obamacare for a decade. Karl though, didn’t press Mulvaney on any part of his fantastical, disingenuous answer.
“Honestly, no other words than ‘pathetic,’” lamented Soledad O’Brien on Twitter, after seeing a clip of the This Week exchange. But it wasn’t just ABC News that took the bait. “White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney guarantees no one will lose coverage if Obamacare struck down,” read the USA Today headline on Sunday, which likely made White House staffers smile. And from CNN: “Mulvaney hits Dems on health care but GOP plan unclear.” Unclear? I believe “nonexistent” is the term that CNN was looking for.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, recently tapped by Trump to help formulate this fabled Republican healthcare plan, appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation, where he gave a masterclass in gibberish and evasiveness. “I look forward to, you know, to seeing what the president’s going to put out,” Scott said unconvincingly when asked where the GOP healthcare plan was. Yet in the CBS write-up of his appearance, Scott’s shallow dodging about the fictional GOP blueprint was politely glossed over: “Asked if he will make sure any Republican health care plan to replace the ACA will not prompt people to lose their coverage, Scott demurred and said he’s focused on driving down the cost of health care.”
Note that over on CNN, Jake Tapper recently hosted Mulvaney, where Trump’s point man insisted Republicans are committed to protecting people who have preexisting conditions. Unlike Karl on ABC though, Tapper then detailed how GOP policy doesn’t protect people with preexisting conditions from being charged more from insurance companies, while Obamacare does. And the Washington Post recently reported that, despite Trump’s hollow boasts about producing a new healthcare blueprint, Republicans in Congress have zero intentions on creating one—it’s not happening.
That’s the kind of clear reporting this issue demands. Journalists shouldn’t waste their time chasing an imaginary Republican healthcare plan.