Republicans Wave the White Flag on Health Care (for Now)

For Republicans, there’s reason to expect Obamacare to linger as a kind of zombie issue, used by conservative politicians to rally the base with little actual expectation of eliminating the law. And in the dozen states that have refused to expand Medicaid, fights over the law will certainly continue. But other issues, like culture-war battles over race and transgender rights, have already supplanted health care as the party’s preferred red meat.

“I don’t know what the next step is” on health care, Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, said in an interview on MSNBC. “I hope it’s not the end of the road.”

Yet the political battle over the future of the law could become more contentious for Democrats, who disagree on how to tackle problems like large deductibles, high premiums and the holdouts on Medicaid expansion.

In 2020, questions of how to build on the law dominated the Democratic Party primary race, which ended poorly for liberal politicians. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign tanked after she was pressed on the details of her sweeping health care alternative. In a book released last month about her campaign, Ms. Warren largely attributed her defeat to her fumbling effort to explain how she would pay for her health care policies. Joseph R. Biden Jr., who argued for bolstering the health care law instead of scrapping private insurance, beat out Ms. Warren and several other more progressive rivals, including Senator Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Sanders, whose plan to nationalize American health care has long been a core part of his political message, welcomed the court’s decision this week but said it was not enough. As the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, he’s pushing to lower the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60 and expand the range of health services the entitlement covers.

“We are the only major country, as you know, not to guarantee health care to all,” he said on Capitol Hill this week. “There are millions of older workers who would like to get Medicare who today can’t, which is why we’ve got to lower the age, and there are millions more walking around who cannot hear, can’t afford eyeglasses and dental.”

President Biden signaled little new interest in changing his position from the campaign.

“The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land,” he said in a White House statement, adding that it was time to “move forward and keep building on this landmark law.”

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