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Why Donald Trump and the GOP Can’t Repeal Obamacare

Posted on Feb 16, 2017

By Sonali Kolhatkar

  Supporters of the Affordable Care Act at a rally in Denver in January. (Brennan Linsley / AP )

After Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency on the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” his administration has just released a set of tweaks to the health care law—and those tweaks all favor the insurance industry over ordinary Americans.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the GOP gleefully dubbed Obamacare, is clearly not good enough to serve all Americans well. But it is such a major improvement over the industry-dominated status quo of eight years ago that, as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times succinctly wrote, “It is both unpopular and saves lives.”

Having perhaps realized that many of his own supporters rely heavily on the ACA, Trump has postponed repealing it and instead has made changes that “insurers have long pushed for,” according to The Hill. These include cutting the enrollment period in half in order to “cut down on sick people gaming the system,” whatever that means.

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Leading up to the announcement of the changes, thousands of Americans in cities across the country, angry about an ACA repeal, have packed town hall meetings held by their congressional representatives. On its surface, the movement is reminiscent of Tea Party activists blasting Democratic lawmakers in 2009 while screaming about so-called “death panels”—a non-existent aspect of the law made up to elicit negative sentiments. How is it that eight years ago so many Americans were upset about upending a barbaric status quo and replacing it with a policy they considered too “socialist,” yet today they are upset about losing the life-saving, if still flawed, replacement?

One simple answer is that in 2008, conservative activists were mobilized by the election of the nation’s first black president and saw opposition to his health care reform act as the perfect way to lash out at him. Now, with Trump in office, liberal and progressive activists upset over Trump’s victory are mobilizing against his promise to repeal the law. But it’s not that simple. While some news media have dismissed this year’s town hall activism as an expression of liberal anger over Trump’s presidential win, many who have shown up to confront their representatives truly are worried about losing newly acquired, life-saving health insurance.

Eight years ago in the pre-Obamacare era, I met a woman who had survived cancer at a time when the health insurance industry was barely regulated. While she had employer-provided private insurance through Blue Shield, the insurance company refused to pay for the treatment that her doctors said she urgently needed to combat her stage-four breast cancer. “I believe that Blue Shield HMO was writing me off because they thought I was too sick [to survive] and that it was too costly to pay for these treatments,” she told me. So she paid $15,000 to have surgery and $3,600 a month for medications, all out of pocket. If she had not chosen to go into debt for the treatments, she said, “I don’t know if I’d be here today.”

While reporting from the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21 this year, I met a young woman holding a sign that read “Save Obamacare, It Saved Me.” She also had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite having private insurance, the out-of-pocket cost of her diagnosis alone was $6,000. Because she was unable to work during her cancer treatments, she became eligible for subsidized insurance coverage thanks to the ACA. That made health care affordable and enabled her to receive the treatments that have kept her alive. Although Obamacare still does not keep premium costs low enough or coverage broad enough for many Americans, the real-world experiences of beneficiaries are a testament to its importance.

Today, about 20 million previously uninsured Americans now have coverage thanks to Obamacare. White working-class Americans have been among the greatest beneficiaries of the law. In fact, it is safe bet that there is a large overlap between those people who gained health insurance under the ACA and those who voted for Trump.

There is a strain of self-righteous pride among many Americans who like to think their achievements are solely their own. It is the persistent myth of American meritocracy that would have use believe we all can make it in this nation if we lift ourselves up by our bootstraps; ergo, those who fall through the cracks do so because it is their own fault.

Americans defending Social Security and Medicare were among those who denounced the ACA, as revealed by the photos of these activist signs from 2009. Those who have benefitted from programs such as Medicare but hate the idea that they are dependent on a taxpayer-funded program are lying to themselves and us. It should shock us to learn that today nearly one-third of Americans do not realize that Obamacare, which they claim to hate, is the same as the ACA, which they might rely on and love. But of course, this sentiment is just another manifestation of the uninformed demand that the government stay out of Medicare.

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