There are a couple of different ways to look at Jeb! Bush’s decision to release his healthcare reform plan on the day of the first Democratic debate. One is that Bush has no confidence in the plan and, with the debate sucking up most of the media’s attention, he is trying to hide it from close scrutiny. Another is that he is really, really bad at campaigning for president. Based on everything else we have seen from his these last few months, my money is on the latter.
Repealing Obamacare holds a hallowed space in the pantheon of conservative priorities to accomplish just as soon as they can get a Republican back into the White House. If you are trying in a crowded GOP field to present a serious, sober-minded replacement and cast yourself as just the responsible legislator to get it through the pack of vicious, slow-witted hyenas that make up the Congress, you want to make a splash. So Bush and his crack team decided the candidate should unveil the plan in a speech at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire at the same time as an editorial authored by either Bush or one of his speechwriters appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader, the most prominent paper in the early primary state.
And then they scheduled this unveiling for a day when the media was consumed with questions of what Hillary Clinton will say about her emails on national television and whether or not Joe Biden was secretly flying to Las Vegas to crash the Democratic debate. Good job, fellas.
On the other hand, if your plan consists of much of the usual Republican boilerplate about reforming our nation’s dysfunctional health-care system, maybe you would not be too anxious to talk about it either. And if you are promising a certain amount of chaos and upheaval in the health care system at a time when the American public has just finished getting past so much of the uncertainty it went through with the implementation of Obamacare – the screaming opposition from conservatives, the refusals to accept the Medicaid expansion, the buggy launch of healthcare.gov, the Supreme Court cases – you might not want to talk about that either.
But that is exactly what Bush is promising. Buried in his speech at St. Anselm College was an admission that part of his plan is working with the states on “transition plans” for the 17 million or so people who have gained coverage under Obamacare. In other words, after Obamacare gave insurance coverage to the previously uninsured, Bush is promising to yank it away again while waving at a vague promise to help people move into yet another new, unspecified system.
And what a system it would be. Bush’s plan would rely more on access to “catastrophic care” plans, the junkiness of which were one of the motivating factors for Obamacare’s provisions that all insurance must provide minimum standards of care. He has promised to “return power to the states,” which is usually code for deregulating state markets and turning Medicaid into a block grant program, actions that disproportionately hurt the minorities and poor who rely on the program for healthcare access. He also promises to move Obamacare’s income tax credits for purchasing insurance on the exchanges from an income- to an age-based model. These tax credits would be open to everyone and could be used to shop for plans on the open market. This was a bad idea when Scott Walker proposed it in his own plan and it is a bad idea now.
That the Republican candidates are still fighting the Obamacare battles should surprise exactly no one who has been paying attention to the right’s never-ending jihad against everything the Obama administration has ever proposed. (If the president declared Tortilla Coast his favorite restaurant in D.C., rest assured the Freedom Caucus would immediately declare it a hotbed of communism.) This despite the fact that polls find the provisions of Obamacare to be incredibly popular so long as you don’t use the word “Obamacare” in talking about where they came from. Which leads one to think that when the public examines the details of exactly what newly lauded health benefits it would suddenly lose with a root-and-branch “repeal and replace” scenario, it would turn against the GOP in a second.
Recent polls show that Obamacare is likely to be a significant factor in getting voters to the polls next November. What is unclear is how many of the voters who want a full repeal understand what exactly they will be giving up if Bush’s plan, or one offered by another Republican candidate, gets implemented. If they get wise to that, it will help the Democratic candidate. The history of the last six years, though, does not leave me hopeful.