by Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
Last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) visited Asbury during Congress’s off week to answer questions in a series of town halls across the state. The most popular questions he faced throughout the time focused on the Republican’s much-hyped repeal of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell promised no specifics to Asbury students but said that the individual insurance market is currently a disaster and must be changed.
However, he failed to provide information to uphold his position past claiming that change is necessary. In Kentucky, 300,000 people are newly insured since the passage of Obamacare in 2010, a 12 percent drop in the uninsured rate. McConnell initially disregarded those numbers as handpicked by Democrats, saying, “With all due respect, that sounds like Steve Beshear’s talking points.”
He later gave credit to one part of healthcare reform, saying, “Now, the one part of your question is accurate: it is a result of the Medicaid expansion, the healthcare for poor people. There are more people covered under Medicaid, and we’re going to have to figure out — some states expanded Medicaid and some didn’t — we’re gonna have to figure out how to deal with that Medicaid problem,” referencing the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to cover people earning under 138 percent of the poverty line (essentially below $16,643 for every member of a household in Kentucky).
But he stopped short of promising to keep Medicaid expansion in the looming overhaul, saying instead, “That’ll depend on the state. You know, we’ve got to work that out with the governors because some expanded and some didn’t…But that’ll be part of the solution.” A leaked version of House Republicans’ bill obtained by POLITICO proposes a nationwide elimination of Medicaid expansion, instead giving states a preset amount of money to cover all of the people who need Medicaid.
President Trump favors a heavy-handed approach to laissez-faire economics. Promising tariffs for outsourcers and tax breaks for American manufacturers clashes with the mainline Republican thinkers who advocate for an unleashed and unregulated market. However, he and his party are united on allowing an uninhibited insurance market to reign, believing that competition will drive costs down and innovation up.
But healthcare is not subject to the laws of supply and demand. People who get sick need care; they don’t have the option of holding out until the price falls below an economically efficient bar. This means hospitals can grab cash by the fistful from insurers, who in turn disseminate those costs to citizens. As doctors and care providers raise their prices, insurers are given license to do the same.
Meanwhile, the coverage market has been saturated by a few massive conglomerates that can base prices off of each other, virtually eliminating free market competition. It’s a lurking, disguised form of collusion on two levels: horizontally between the insurers and vertically between insurers and providers, all cooperating to profit off a necessity. It’s why the ACA sought to place the government in an intervening position and try to provide a fair price for essential services.
One of McConnell’s first quotes to his Wilmore constituency was, “Winners govern and losers go home,” framing a mindset that sounds great to his voters but has dangerous potential. The healthcare of 20 million people is not a prize to be gambled away for more political points. Despite Obamacare’s unpopularity in some right-leaning polls, repealing would cost 300,000 Kentuckians their insurance and 45,000 their jobs. For a Republican government chiefly concerned with job creation and protecting the “forgotten man,” eliminating the Affordable Care Act would tarnish both of those goals. Hopefully Sen. McConnell hears that message loud and clear from all the voters he faced last week, at Asbury and beyond.