Health Care Prices Are Now the GOP’s Problem
Health Care

Health Care Prices Are Now the GOP’s Problem

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

Republicans have a health care problem on their hands. Rising health care costs and Affordable Care Act premiums that are set to jump by double digits for 2019 could fuel voter anger, Politico’s Paul Demko reports — especially with premium hikes due to be announced just before Election Day.

Polls show that more voters now blame Republicans for problems with Obamacare, and as the party in control of both the White House and both chambers of Congress, the GOP is “on the hook for the health care system’s chronic shortcomings,” Demko writes.

It’s a dramatic reversal of recent political history, and Democrats are geared up to make sure Republicans feel the pain. “For the first time since it became law in 2010, Obamacare is a political asset for Democrats heading into an election—a striking turn after several cycles in which the law’s unpopularity helped Republicans sweep into power in legislative races across the country,” Bloomberg’s Joshua Green and Sahil Kapur note. (They add, though, that Democrats will have to keep spending heavily on ads if they want to break through the never-ending barrage of Trump scandals and controversies to convince more voters that they’ll defend Obamacare and work to bring down prices.)

Republicans know the peril they face — and they’re worried about it. “Trump was ‘successful’ in making Obamacare worse — and now Republicans are nervous they might actually be held accountable for the pain inflicted on people who need health-care coverage,” writes The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin.

And the Trump administration’s recent decision to not defend Obamacare or its protections for pre-existing conditions in a court case only gave Democrats more ammunition. “Trump’s anti-ACA moves are like a flashing neon sign: ‘Republicans want to take away your health-care coverage!’” Rubin says.

It’s no wonder, then, that congressional Republicans say they’re eager to turn their attention to health care costs. The Senate will hold hearings this week on prescription drug affordability and health care prices, with the House expected to follow soon. “That is our next issue," Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Axios’ Caitlin Owens. "We’re just going to march through every segment of this. That’s every segment: that’s pharmaceuticals, that’s PMBs [pharmacy benefit managers], that’s doctors, that’s hospitals."

Yet even as Republicans look to act, the party remains somewhat divided on where to put its efforts, with some GOPers still focused on repealing and replacing Obamacare, Owens writes. There might be a couple of problems with that, even leaving aside the difficulty Republicans have had — and will likely continue to have — with their repeal efforts.

First, Obamacare has gained in popularity, so repeal efforts might do very little beyond energizing some in the GOP base. Second, as Owens notes, rising Obamacare premiums represent “just a small part of the overall system, which is grappling with drug prices, surprise hospital bills and a trend toward higher out-of-pocket spending.” Another Obamacare repeal push, if it comes, might make it more difficult to address the health care costs that really hit most Americans’ wallets.