After Senate Republicans failed in their latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is imperative that media stay focused on covering health care. President Donald Trump and Tom Price, his secretary of health and human services, are likely to make unilateral changes that will undermine the ACA and affect those currently covered under it. Media outlets cannot let these policy decisions happen in the dark, as they have in the past.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on July 17 that the latest “effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” after four Republican senators said they would not vote for the bill. McConnell currently intends to vote on a bill to repeal the ACA with no replacement plan in place -- a move Trump supports -- which, The New York Times wrote, “has almost no chance to pass.”
Media largely failed to cover the debate leading up to this failed legislative attempt, which played out behind closed doors in “almost-unprecedented opacity,” leaving audiences in the dark about the consequences and stakes of the proposed bill. For the time being, it appears as if decisions about health care will continue to be made in the dark.
Without Congress, Trump and Price can still deal a potentially fatal blow to the health insurance market. On July 18, Trump reacted to the Senate’s failure to pass an ACA replacement, saying, “Let Obamacare fail. ... I’m not going to own it.” And, as Vox explained, “Especially in states with shakier exchanges, the president certainly does have some fairly broad discretionary authority that he and his health and human services secretary can use to deliberately sabotage the program if they want to.” In March, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told New York magazine that Trump and Price would have to decide “whether or not HHS will continue to reimburse insurance companies for cost-sharing expenses.” Sebelius explained that not making those payments, which Trump has threatened to do, “could cause a number of companies now offering plans in the marketplace to not sign up again for 2018.”
Given the likelihood that Trump and Price will work to destabilize the health care system however they can, media have an obligation to prioritize the issue, especially as Trump is likely to blame Democrats for any negative impacts to health care coverage or to the insurance market in general. The current health care system will undoubtedly continue to inspire debate and attempted sabotage throughout Trump’s time in office. Media better pay attention.