Kicking the can

After more than 60 attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, Republicans are salivating over finally being able to accomplish that task when a new Congress is sworn in with Donald Trump in the White House and Republican majorities in both chambers in January.

So eager are some members to ditch the ACA that they are willing to entertain legislation that would repeal it without replacing anything, delaying implementation for several years to allow lawmakers time to come up with something “better.”

The problem is that Congress has a terrible track record of following through on issues when it kicks the can of actual hard work further down the legislative road. One need look no further than the seemingly endless string of continuing resolutions lawmakers have to pass each session because they can’t agree on a comprehensive budget bill.

The problem with repealing Obamacare without replacing it is that we aren’t just talking about closing government offices for a week or two and furloughing federal workers who end up getting back pay anyway when Congress finally acts.

Somes 20 million people now rely on the ACA for their medical care. The sudden loss of that coverage, however modest a policy may be, for even a few days could have disastrous effects on people’s health and on their economic well-being.

Insurance companies — and small businesses that offer health benefits, too — need surety in order to make important decisions. Waiting three years for Congress to put something definitive together is a potential public health and economic disaster.

At the beginning of any legislative session, lawmakers universally pledge a willingness to work together “across the aisle” in a bipartisan way to get the country’s business done. Many representatives, Republicans and Democrats, have shown an interest in keeping key provisions of the ACA, including allowing students to remain on their parents’ policies and prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. The traditional early-session honeymoon period seldom lasts for long. What remains as law or what is rescinded is not as important as the need for clear and definitive action.

Before rushing to throw out the ACA, a responsible approach dictates that there be a clear alternative ready to take its place.

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