I find myself thinking about “ Groundhog Day” a lot right now. I’m not talking about the holiday honoring a groundhog named Phil in Pennsylvania — it is spring, after all! No, I’m talking about the Bill Murray movie that focuses on a man who’s reliving the same day over and over again. As Murray’s character continues to cycle through this loop, it starts to feel like a nightmare: Can we really be doing the same thing over and over again, with no end in sight?
That’s exactly how I feel regarding this administration’s approach to health care: It’s the same thing, over and over again, until they can finally succeed in their effort to make it harder for Americans to get health coverage. And that’s when the real nightmare will start.
Over the course of this presidency, the administration has tried a number of approaches to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, ranging from shortening the enrollment period to reducing advertising for open enrollment to cutting assistance for Americans trying to navigate the health care process. And, of course, there have been failed legislative attempts to repeal the law without any viable replacement.
But they haven’t just used the executive and legislative branches of government to attack the ACA — they’ve also tried to undermine the law through the courts. The prime example of this approach came last year, when the Department of Justice said it would not defend the ACA’s pre-existing conditions protections in a court case seeking to invalidate the entire law. But just days ago, the DOJ doubled down. In a major and concerning shift, the administration took their extreme position even further by stating they now believe the entire law is unconstitutional and will defend no aspect of the law in court.
This isn’t a matter of partisan politics — or at least, it shouldn’t be. Health care isn’t some privilege that can be revoked from those who are too poor or too sick. It’s a necessity for anyone seeking a happy, healthy, productive life, and making it harder for people to access medical care is just making life harder for working Americans trying to take care of themselves and their family. That’s why, for the life of me, I don’t understand anyone wanting to limit, reduce or restrict people’s access to health insurance. It’s bad policy and bad politics — and yet it seems to be the administration’s guiding principle on the topic.
Now, I’m by no means saying the ACA is flawless, because it’s not. For too many Americans — particularly those who live in rural areas and older Americans who have not reached the age of Medicare eligibility — the cost of health insurance is still too expensive, and we have work to do to increase affordability. But in the years since the ACA became law, approximately 20 million more Americans have health insurance than before the law existed.
The law has helped protect Americans with pre-existing conditions from being charged ridiculous rates or even denied coverage by insurance companies, and allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, and given states the chance to expand Medicaid to more of its most vulnerable citizens. (Which, I should add, is about to help 70,000 Maine people access care.) These are important developments — and if we get rid of the ACA entirely, they would be lost.
Put simply: The ACA isn’t perfect, but it’s made people’s lives better, and that’s worth building on by making simple fixes around the edges rather than tearing it apart or repealing it entirely. But instead of coming together in a bipartisan way to find opportunities to improve the health care system, we’re stuck in the same loop, fighting about whether or not to blow the whole law up rather than trying to take steps to actually improve it.
I, for one, have had enough of the loop, because this isn’t some movie — these are real people’s lives. So let’s break out of this cycle, stop the games and come together to further the positive work that’s already been done by the ACA instead of destroying all the progress we’ve made.
Angus King represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.