In a rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republican leaders introduced the Health Care Freedom Act to the Senate floor at approximately 10 p.m. Thursday night. More famously known as the “skinny repeal” health care bill, the lawmakers were only given a few hours to make a decision on their vote. The Senate Republicans needed 50 votes total to pass the bill, with the assumption that Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie. Early Friday morning, the bill failed at a vote of 51-49; most famously as a result of Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) voting ‘no.’ Two other senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also opposed their party by voting against the bill.

Often, first glances at the media coverage of the Trump administration’s recent actions tells us little of the practical implications and results such actions will have. When the “skinny repeal” bill failed on the Senate floor, the highlights of the event drew partisan reactions on both sides. Though Collin’s and Murkowski’s “no” votes were not necessarily surprises, their lack of support to a Republican-written bill has the right-wing feeling betrayed by their own party. McCain’s surprise vote, however, left a deeper feeling of resentment, and as a result, the headlines the next morning portrayed him as both the hero and the villain. It seems as though the pressing issue of health care law in the United States was taken over by the drama of partisan disagreement. The knowledge of the vote is widespread, but the knowledge about the substance and implication of the health care repeal bill seems less understood. The partisan divide has ruptured divides along party lines, yet more imperatively, it has served as a bitter distraction from the substance and the importance of the law in context.  

The bill was not released to the public until after the vote. The secrecy and haste of the bill promoted the idea that repealing the ACA held greater priority over the quality of the health care reform. Thrown together quickly in hopes of dismantling Obamacare, the bill held major flaws that would have resulted in many negative consequences for the American people. If passed, the health care legislation would have repealed the ACA’s controversial individual and employer mandate and also make room for states to allow other insurances that don’t fall under the ACA’s regulations. This means that there is a no financial penalty for (most) Americans who decide to not carry health insurance. This is good news for those who keep their bodies healthy, especially younger Americans. However, the “skinny repeal” bill lacks incentive for the majority of Americans to stay continuously insured, which is essential to avoid ever-increasing premiums and for the market to stay healthy. This new legislation would have made the adverse selection problem much more serious to the death spiral result of insurers leaving the market. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 14 million more Americans would go uninsured in 2018 with the “skinny repeal” than under the ACA. Premiums would increase 20 percent by next year.

The answer to the problem of health care in the United States exists in the improvement of the current plan or in a truly and substantively improved replacement plan. The Health Care Freedom Act is neither of those. It is rather a result of a partisan conflict, which has only grown to the point where the real priority of health care accessibility becomes second place to the reputations of the political party and presidential administration. Before making his vote, McCain made a statement assuredly enlightening his reasoning for voting no on the bill.

“Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work,” he said. “There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.”

Susan Collins released her reasoning on Twitter following her vote, stating, “When dealing w/ a complex issue that affects millions of Americans & 1/6th of our economy, we must proceed carefully.” The statements of each Senator show their value of the protection of the health of American citizens and their welfare. Regardless of the administration’s pressure, party loyalty and the recognition they may have received from their own party, each Senator acted according to their belief that the welfare of the American people take precedence over the achievements of any administration and to whose party it belongs.

Lena Dreves can be reached at ldreves@umich.edu

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