Trump has no replacement for Obamacare that he wants SCOTUS to nix
October 13, 2020
The Trump administration is supporting a lawsuit asking the courts to throw out the Affordable Care Act, even though the White House has no concrete replacement for the Obama-era healthcare law.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised a backup plan but hasn’t unveiled a detailed proposal. His domestic policy chief, Brooke Rollins, said the White House was still working on one.
“Obviously if the Affordable Care Act is struck down, we will be ready,” Rollins told Insider in an exclusive interview last week. “If it is not, then we’re going to continue to improve the current system.”
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments next month in the ACA case that was initiated by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which Rollins once oversaw.
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The White House’s policy shop lacks a clear replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act if the Supreme Court throws out the healthcare law.
Brooke Rollins, the acting director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, told Insider in an exclusive interview last week that a backup plan was “being worked on” but indicated that administration officials hadn’t settled on a solution.
“Obviously if the Affordable Care Act is struck down, we will be ready,” she said. “If it is not, then we’re going to continue to improve the current system.”
The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the ACA a week after the November 3 election. The Trump administration argues the entire law, which was signed by President Barack Obama, should be wiped out, which would threaten coverage for 20 million people.
Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, have focused on raising alarm about the lawsuit in the weeks leading up to the election and as Senate Republicans rush to confirm the third new conservative Supreme Court justice of the Trump era.
They say President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could be the deciding vote to strike down the law, even as the US continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Senate Republicans opened confirmation hearings Monday on Barrett’s nomination and want to hold a final floor vote on her lifetime appointment before Election Day.
Rollins told Insider that striking down the law would be “the right way” to go. “We not only think it was unconstitutional but that it hasn’t worked as promised,” she said.
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‘All to be worked out’
Before she joined the White House Office of American Innovation in 2018, Rollins was the president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a powerful conservative organization that was behind the ACA lawsuit that’s now before the Supreme Court. The think tank has pushed for states to take the lead in setting up their own healthcare plans.
Rollins has overseen the Domestic Policy Council since May. The office operates largely behind the scenes but is influential in directing and coordinating the president’s agenda.
She told Insider that if the Supreme Court struck down the healthcare law, the government could “redeploy” the money used to pay for the law.
Rollins said there were “a lot of options” on the table when asked whether the funds would go to states to help them set up their own healthcare systems.
“That’s obviously where I think the Republicans have been before, but where this president wants to go is he wants to put patients back in charge of their own healthcare,” she said.
Whether to go through states or the federal government was “all to be worked out,” she said. Much of the funding of the law subsidizes health insurers rather than providing help directly to patients, she added.
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Repeated promises to replace the ACA
The ACA has faced multiple court challenges since becoming law. It once was unpopular in part because it disrupted people’s previous coverage and imposed a fine on uninsured people, and congressional Republicans successfully ran on promises to repeal it. After they failed to kill the Obama-era legacy in 2017, they moved on to overhaul tax laws and zeroed out the ACA’s penalty, the so-called individual mandate.
That move raised the ACA’s favorability among voters but also created an opening for the latest legal challenge. The case headed for the Supreme Court for arguments on November 10 was initially brought by GOP state officials who say the law is unconstitutional. They cite a 2012 Supreme Court decision that said the fine on uninsured people was critical to making the rest of the law work. They say that without it, the law cannot stand.
The Trump administration supports the lawsuit but finds itself fighting off political attacks on its position. Kaiser Family Foundation polling showed that among respondents, the overall law was viewed favorably by 49% of voters and unfavorably by 42% of voters.
But specific ACA provisions that are far more popular prohibit insurers from turning away sick people and charging them more for coverage than healthy people. Those practices were common before the ACA made it illegal for insurers to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions.
Trump and congressional Republicans have repeatedly promised to repeal and replace the ACA. But they haven’t unified behind an alternative more than a decade since its inception and nearly four years since Trump became president.
In a Monday tweet, Trump urged Republicans to “get the word out” that they were going to provide “much better” healthcare at “a much lower cost.”
In September, the president signed several healthcare-related executive orders that the White House said would restore “choice and control” to patients and make healthcare more affordable. Those orders would still require action from Congress.
In defense of the administration’s position, Rollins pointed out ways that she said the ACA hadn’t lived up to its promises. For instance, she said millions of people were priced out of coverage offered through the ACA-created marketplaces.
Generally speaking, the law doesn’t help people pay for coverage if they earn more than 400% of the federal poverty level or about $49,960 a year for one person. For them, accessing protections for preexisting conditions isn’t possible.
“This sort of exalting of the Affordable Care Act is really confusing to me,” Rollins said.
Democrats have acknowledged the healthcare law’s affordability problems. In June, House Democrats passed a bill that would boost how much money the government subsidizes for health insurance. It would lower what people pay for coverage directly but not impose limits on prices. That bill won’t be taken up by the Republican-led Senate.
After our interview with Rollins, the White House sent Insider additional information defending its stewardship of the ACA. It provided reports showing that ACA premiums have decreased in part because the Trump administration approved federal funds to help states stabilize their marketplaces. The number of insurers offering plans has also grown since the end of Obama’s second term.
The White House also said it allowed employers to give workers pretax dollars to help them shop for their own health plans. If there’s a big uptake of the plans, then insurance could become more affordable.
“This rule is expected to lead to four times as many people purchasing coverage in the individual market with no new federal spending,” the White House said of the employer offerings.