Kalter: GOP’s latest Obamacare repeal DOA, but they’ll try again

September 27, 2017

The latest GOP health care bill faced a crushing defeat as a vote on the measure was called off, but the war Republicans have waged against Obamacare is far from over, analysts say.

“This has been a monumental policy failure and I think it’s catastrophic politically,” said Robert Moffit, senior fellow in health policy at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. “But there are no permanent victories or permanent defeats in Washington.”

The bill — sponsored by U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — faced harsh criticism for drastically cutting federal Medicaid support and taking insurance from millions of Americans.

Monday’s announcement of opposition from Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was the final nail in the coffin for the Graham-Cassidy bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said yesterday no vote would be taken.

But Republicans remain committed to the lofty campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. That could come in any number of forms, analysts say, from subtle administrative moves to larger efforts to wrap health care into tax reform.

“The Republicans could wage a guerrilla war using every vehicle they can — appropriation bills, budget bills,” Moffit said. “No matter what happens over the next three years, you’re going to have a battle over health care.”

But the previous legislative failures will require more moderate language in future iterations, said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at Harvard University.

“I don’t believe the debate about changing the Affordable Care Act is over,” he said. “The Republicans will be back with a bill, but it can’t get passed if it has the same kind of cuts in coverage.”

Or they could use methods that come in increments so small they’re barely detectable — like administrative action that undermines the law, said Andrea Campbell, professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The administration has done that by shortening the open enrollment period and slashing advertising spending.

“Those are less visible actions that won’t elicit the same kinds of protests as overt repeal,” Campbell said. “But they might be just as effective.”