When I went to bed last night, I was sure that when I awoke, Obamacare repeal would have passed in the Senate. After years of waiting, and months of legislative ineptitude, it looked like the Republicans were finally going to get their signature piece of legislation out the door. And what a piece it was.
The latest version of the repeal bill, cobbled together over lunch and introduced only a couple of hours before being voted upon (because the nation’s health care is something that can be kludged over soup and sandwiches), only came about because every other version of repeal was too horrific for even Republicans to pass. This newest version wasn’t much better, with a CBO score showing it would throw merely 16 million people off of insurance rolls, and not 20+ million.
The bill was so bad, so potentially toxic to Republicans in next year’s midterms, that many Republican Senators didn’t even want the thing to pass. A handful, including Lindsey Graham and John McCain, said they would not vote ‘yes’ on the bill until they got assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan that the Senate version of the bill would not be adopted by the House. I’m going to repeat myself here because that last sentence is so astounding. Republican Senators, despite not wanting this bill to become law, were prepared to vote for it anyway if there were assurances from the other chamber that it would not become law. That is political cowardice of the highest order.
Those assurances were not forthcoming. Ryan did his best to hedge his bets, fully aware that while he is the Speaker, he doesn’t have enough control over his caucus to give any guarantees on how it will vote. With that in mind, John McCain, former maverick, strode onto the floor of the Senate around 1:30 this morning, and joined Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and every single Democrat, in voting ‘no’ on the bill.
It’s hard for me to express how relieved I am over this. I don’t believe for a second that Obamacare repeal is truly dead — not until Democrats regain control of one of the chambers of Congress. But this was the closest that the GOP has come to repeal.
I’m on Obamacare. I’ve been on it since day one. As a freelance web developer, I don’t have a job with benefits. Everything has to be paid for by me. Before Obamacare, the cheapest quote I got from an insurance company for anything other than a junk plan was $1,200 a month, and that was for an HMO. A coveted PPO plan would have run me over $3,600 a month. The plan that I have from Obamacare is not the best. It’s a silver plan — one of the middle-tier of plans — and it’s an HMO. That means high copays, high deductibles, I have to get referrals, and there is no dental or vision. But the first year I was on Obamacare, in 2014, my premium was $385 a month. Math-minded readers will see that is significantly less than the $1,200 I was quoted for a similar plan. Were my income low enough to be eligible for subsidies, my monthly outlays would be even lower.
In the years since Obamacare became law, my plan has seen premium increases to $407 a month in year two, $452 a month in year three, and $518 a month in year four. Those are massive yearly increases. Next year, rates for my plan are set to go up another 28%, to around $663 a month. Obamacare isn’t collapsing, but it is ailing. Premium increases like this are a response to uncertainties in insurance markets created by Republican attacks on Obamacare, the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the law, court decisions that weakened it, and young, healthy people unwilling to sign up for coverage. I’m very concerned about the rise in premiums, and that will have to be addressed someday. But short of single payer, this is the best system we have to cover individuals who do not get health insurance from their employers.
Republicans went out of their way to paint any plan they came up with to replace Obamacare as expanding freedom and choice. It didn’t matter to them that choosing to forgo insurance because premiums are too expensive to afford is not really a choice at all. In the conservative mind, the solution to that is simply to choose to work harder and make more money. More money means insurance can be within reach. How simple. It never occurred to me that I could buy anything I wanted by simply making more money.
But I don’t just want health insurance. I need it. In fact, every person in this country, whether they are completely healthy or are suffering from chronic illness, needs health insurance. Everyone gets sick. Everyone gets hurt. Everyone dies. The healthcare system we have in place in this country is one where a single injury or single diagnosis can mean all of a person’s financial assets are wiped out. It’s a cruel system, especially considering we are the richest nation the world has ever seen, and a system that every other first world country in the west has replaced with universal healthcare. Until we wise up, Obamacare has to be protected.