Republicans kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives in Washington after sending an Obamacare-repeal bill to the desk of the law’s namesake last January and also won the White House on a campaign platform of dismantling the disastrous health-insurance policy.
It didn’t hurt them in Kentucky, either, where the GOP won control of the House for the first time in nearly a century and now hold a supermajority in both chambers.
What will the Grand Old Party in Washington do with this momentum?
Not only is the first 100 days of this new Congress the right time to get rid of Obamacare, it will never be easier to meet demands for full repeal by impatient voters in no mood to accept a new coat of paint or touch-up job.
It must be dismantled “root and branch,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said.
No portion of Obamacare serves as a better example of the need for immediate and complete repeal than the Medicaid expansion, which created a new welfare category for able-bodied adults, resulting in one out of three Kentuckians becoming dependent on government-run health care.
Since its launch, enrollment and costs in states choosing to opt in exploded.
While about 188,000 were originally expected to sign up for the program in Kentucky, 430,000 – more than double the projected maximum enrollment – ended up enrolling.
The result? The truly needy got pushed to the back of the line while working-age, non-disabled adults get free welfare.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration is seeking to address this situation in its pending waiver request of the federal government, which doesn’t affect any Kentuckian enrolled in Medicaid before its expansion; neither does it change benefits for children, expectant mothers or the medically frail.
It merely requires able-bodied adults who enrolled in Medicaid as part of the expansion to, as Bevin insists, have “skin in the game” by offering healthy incentives rather than encouraging dependency.
Ultimately, the goal is for recipients to engage in their own employment and health care so they move out of safety-net programs meant to be transitional and temporary into private, traditional and permanent employer-provided insurance plans that provide better and more immediate care.
This new welfare program that voters clearly don’t want also threatens to crowd out funding for infrastructure, public safety, education and public-pension crises – taxpayer priorities in most states, including Kentucky.
Congress has reasonable options for ending this expansion.
It could freeze Medicaid enrollment by allowing current recipients to remain until no longer eligible, giving them sufficient time to explore alternatives.
Starting the rollback now would buoy voters’ confidence that the majority party plans to keep its longstanding repeal promise and free up limited resources for the truly vulnerable, including 2,000 Kentuckians with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently languishing on Medicaid waiting lists.
This freeze approach has worked in other states, including Maine and Arizona, where able-bodied enrollees immediately returned to a life of independence, instantly loosening limited taxpayer dollars for use toward ensuring access to care for truly vulnerable residents.
Congress should also implement two reforms to preserve Medicaid for the truly needy: require work for able-bodied, working-age adults on Medicaid as Bevin and other governors support and allow states to check Medicaid eligibility more frequently to remove fraudsters.
Reform cannot happen too soon.
McConnell rightly insisted: “We must act quickly to bring relief to the American people.”
Each day the costly and unpopular Obamacare policy lingers is a day too long.
Anything less than immediate, full and unvarnished repeal would be a violation of voters’ trust and could – and should – have severe ramifications during upcoming elections.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.