With the shutdown beginning to fade from view, Obamacare opponents, learning from past battles, are revising their tactics and turning their focus to a push to let people keep their current health insurance.
The House may pass such a proposal in the next few weeks, with the leadership team eying House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton’s bill as its likely vehicle. But for a parallel push by Senator Ron Johnson and freshman Representative Ron DeSantis, the House vote is secondary.
The two are plotting to put the heat on vulnerable Senate Democrats before the House even brings the bill to the floor — for example, by working with those senators’ House colleagues to organize a lobbying blitz.
“We’re going to work within our state delegations to put some pressure on these Democratic senators so that they’ll start demanding some action,” DeSantis says. “You may see a letter from the Arkansas delegation to Mark Pryor saying, ‘Hey, you said that people could keep their plans. Will you step up and support this?’”
Potential Democratic senators whom Republicans are looking to recruit include embattled senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and the other nine Democratic signatories to a letter calling for an extension to the enrollment period for the exchange market.
The reason for the shift in tactics is a recognition that, for a variety of reasons, House passage of a given bill does not on its own create pressure for the Senate to act.
“Journalists don’t go to Reid and pressure him [about] whether he’s going to bring something up,” DeSantis says.
The flurry of legislative proposals comes as millions of Americans in the individual-health-insurance market are receiving cancellation notices despite repeated vows from President Obama that anyone who liked their current plan would be able to keep it under his health-care overhaul.
House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer, conceding that top Democrats knew Obamacare would force some people off their health-care plans, said on Tuesday that Obama should have included caveats along with his promises that individuals could keep only those plans that were in accordance with burdensome new Obamacare regulations.
Republicans have been warning about this since 2009, but because the law has been implemented gradually over years the results haven’t been palpable until now. “We’ve been saying this until we were hoarse,” says a top Republican. “Now people finally seem to be listening.”
Several senior GOP aides said it is likely that Speaker John Boehner will bring a bill addressing the issue to the floor when the House returns from recess on November 12. But sources close to leadership said no final decision had been made.
Johnson’s bill would remove from the law’s grandfathering clause the stipulations that are causing many existing plans to be canceled. Even small changes in prices eliminate a plan’s eligibility for grandfathered status.
Upton’s bill applies only to the individual-insurance market, not broadly across the much larger group-plan market, and is limited to one year.
If Majority Leader Eric Cantor opts to bring the bill to the House floor, several senior Republicans said, they’re optimistic it would fetch 40 to 70 Democratic votes.
A big X factor in the amount of Democratic support Upton’s bill would receive is what lawmakers hear when they’re back home during the recess. Given the large numbers of people being kicked off their health-care plans and then the lack of a functioning exchange market on which to purchase a new plan, public outcry could be intense.
Another, similar development giving the GOP momentum is news that it will be difficult to access many top hospitals under Obamacare. Some lawmakers are already looking ahead to the beginning of the delayed employer mandate, which will resume just before the 2014 elections, when it could cause massive disruptions in the markets.
Meanwhile, the push to delay the individual mandate is losing its place as the “It” girl among incremental Obamacare fixes.
One argument gaining steam: For people suffering under the law, the fix could hurt more than help.
The mandate is designed to create a financial incentive for young, healthy people who might not otherwise purchase health insurance to join the market, which lowers the cost for older people, who are more likely to need health care. If the young and healthy people drop out, the prices go up for everyone else.
One Machiavellian take on that impact of delaying the individual mandate is that, from the anti-Obamacare perspective, it could be a feature, not a bug, in that it increases the impetus for reform and could prompt the so-called death spiral in which prices keep rising, exacerbating the health-insurance problem while forcing all but the sickest people out of the plans. Two counterarguments are offered. Such a plan is tantamount to harming people on purpose. Second, as some on the right caution, creating an outcry for reform doesn’t necessarily mean the resulting reform would be conservative. For instance, Obama could blame the GOP and seize on the dysfunction to push for single-payer health care.
— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online.