For seven years, Republicans in opposition vowed to overturn the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. On the campaign stump, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to repeal and replace Obamacare ‘immediately’, starting on ‘Day One’. ‘It’s going to be so easy’, he liked to say.
True to his promise, Trump did make healthcare his first major legislative initiative of his presidency. And with Republican majorities in both houses of congress, and a Republican in the White House, passage of a healthcare bill looked ‘easy’. But, as we now know, Trump flopped spectacularly. Last Friday, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives failed to secure enough of their own members to support the Trump-backed bill, and thus were forced to withdraw it from consideration. With that, Trump and the Republicans suffered an embarrassing self-defeat, leaving them looking like a gang that couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.
‘Trumpcare’ deserved to fail, as it would have provided inferior care. The bill would have reduced coverage (increasing the number of uninsured by 24million over a decade), increased premiums, removed requirements to cover certain benefits like emergency services and maternity care, and handed a tax cut to millionaires. No wonder only 17 per cent of Americans supported it.
The bill exposed Trump’s populist rhetoric on the campaign trail to be empty promises. Healthcare is a major concern for working people – it is literally a life-or-death issue. A study published last week highlighted how death rates among white people without college degrees have risen since 1999. While various factors have contributed to this disturbing trend, the last thing people need right now is greater healthcare insecurity. And indeed, the hardest hit under the Republican proposal would have been older, poorer people: according to the Congressional Budget Office, premiums for 64-year-olds making $26,500 would have increased sevenfold by 2026. In other words, the constituency that put Trump over the top in the election would have been the worst affected.
This debacle casts everyone on the Republican side in a bad light. Trump was revealed (once again) to be ignorant of policy details. ‘Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated’, he said – apparently, The Donald was the last to be told. The self-proclaimed ‘closer’ of deals, who wrote the book on deal-making (The Art of the Deal), could not find agreement among his own party members. And he gave up after 17 days of trying – a fraction of the time usually spent on major legislation (Obama and the Democrats took 187 days to introduce Obamacare).