On Obamacare, Ron Johnson still wants repeal and replace, but by another name

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The Wisconsin Republican senator recently denied that he was pushing to get rid of the Affordable Care Act — a day after saying the GOP should have a plan to do so.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said on Tuesday that he still wants to repeal and replace Obamacare with a free-market system based on "consumerism" — he just doesn't want to use the phrase "repeal and replace."

At a telephone town hall hosted by the right-wing organization Americans for Prosperity and flagged by the progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century, Johnson talked about how he would address health care reform.

Johnson said he wants to scrap the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and instead make a larger portion of the public pay the costs of protecting people with preexisting conditions.

The general state of health care, to me it's pretty basic. There's two areas of our economy where we've largely driven the benefit of free-market competition out of: One is education, the other's health care. Only 10 cents of every dollar is paid directly by the patient for whatever service they get, so there’s very little consumerism in health care. So we care what we pay for insurance, but we don’t even know what things cost. And so as a result, costs explode. The solution is to reintroduce consumerism. And so, I never really liked the term "repeal and replace." I always preferred the term "Let's repair the damage done by Obamacare and transition to a system that works."

 

You know, Obamacare is predicated on high-deductible plans. And quite honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you have a device like a health savings account that can provide people the dollars that they can pay for the lower-cost parts of health care, and then you have insurance for the catastrophic type of care. To me, that’s how you reintroduce consumerism into health care. Always, always protecting people with preexisting conditions. Obamacare did it stupidly, making a very small percentage, about 5, 6% of the American population that buy individual policies, bear the full brunt of protecting people with preexisting conditions. What you need to do is spread that over everybody.

Johnson has previously proposed putting high-risk patients into insurance pools and spreading the costs to more people. The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that works on health care issues, noted in 2017 that such high-risk pools would likely mean "more expensive coverage providing less financial protection" for many.

“Ron Johnson has spent a decade pushing a self-serving agenda and voting to gut critical protections for Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions, raise health care costs, and make it harder for working families to access quality and affordable health care," Philip Shulman, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, told the American Independent Foundation on Wednesday.

Johnson, America's second-least popular senator according to a recent national poll, has been struggling to convince Wisconsin voters to reelect him to a third term after he broke an earlier pledge to retire after two terms.

Despite his claim that he does not like the term "repeal and replace," in March he suggested that Republicans need to have a health care plan ready if they win congressional majorities in the 2022 midterm elections.

"For example, if we were going to repeal and replace Obamacare — OK, I think we still need to fix our health care system — we need to have the plan ahead of time so that once we get in office, we can implement it immediately, not knock around like we did last time and fail," he told the right-wing website Breitbart.

A day later, he backtracked from that, claiming, "During the radio interview I used our failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as an example of how we need to be prepared to deliver on whatever agenda items we decide to run on. I was not suggesting repealing and replacing Obamacare should be one of those priorities."

Johnson ran in 2010 on a promise that he would "vote to repeal the Health Care Bill and replace it with market-based solutions that will include: portability, malpractice reform, mandate reduction, insurance purchase across state lines, lower costs, and a safety net for those with pre-existing conditions."

But he then voted repeatedly for then-President Donald Trump's unsuccessful 2017 "Trumpcare" proposals, which would have kicked 23 million people off their insurance. Those proposals would have required that people with preexisting conditions be able purchase health insurance, but would have allowed insurers to charge them much higher premiums.

When those plans failed to pass, even in a GOP-controlled Senate, Johnson vowed not to give up on repeal — but then scrubbed his campaign website issues page of any mention of the law.

Since that time, Obamacare has continued to be broadly popular across the United States. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation's March tracking poll, 55% of adults now have a favorable opinion of the law, while 42% do not.

As of June 2021, 31 million Americans were covered by health insurance through the law. In 2021, almost 192,000 Wisconsin residents were enrolled in insurance plans through their state's Obamacare exchange.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.