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Cynthia M. Allen: Obamacare changes are possible

Full repeal of Obamacare is impossible until at least 2017, but that doesn’t mean Americans don’t want the law substantially changed in the meantime.
Full repeal of Obamacare is impossible until at least 2017, but that doesn’t mean Americans don’t want the law substantially changed in the meantime.

File this one under “reasons to remain skeptical of Obamacare.”

Last week video surfaced showing professor, economist and Affordable Care Act architect Jonathan Gruber describing to an audience at the University of Pennsylvania how deception, “a lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” were all critical in getting President Obama’s signature health care policy passed into law.

Let the audacity of that assertion sink in for a moment.

For the 51 percent of Americans, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, who still view the ACA with disfavor, that shouldn’t come as a shock. In fact, the opacity employed in drafting, passing and then marketing the law is one of the reasons why cynicism about Obamacare remains so high.

Still, affirming the government’s duplicity doesn’t change the fact that Obamacare is the law of the land. Nor does it solve the law’s manifold problems and complications, which are here to stay absent congressional action or a monumental decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is still possible next spring.

But it certainly will incite Republican members of the incoming U.S. House and Senate to pursue yet another vote to repeal the law in full, and considering Gruber’s comments, who can blame them?

It’s clear, given the decisive midterm election results, that Obamacare is still a problem for many Americans – particularly those whose plans have been canceled, whose premiums and deductibles have increased while their networks have narrowed, or those who have endured other economic challenges as a result of the law, such as reduced work hours.

While disapproval of the law still remains high, full repeal is impossible until at least 2017, when a presidential veto is no longer a certainty. But that doesn’t mean Americans don’t want the law substantially changed in the meantime.

Changes that are popular with the public include repealing the medical-device tax, which several studies have found will result in substantial job losses. There is also bipartisan support to repeal or reform the employer mandate – a provision that penalizes employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent workers if they don’t offer government-approved health insurance or their employees can’t afford insurance without subsidies.

The good news is that come January, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., no longer able to block bills from reaching the Senate floor, Republicans will have the opportunity to reintroduce legislation that will address the most egregious parts of the law. Not coincidentally, those also happen to be provisions that are likely to garner bipartisan support, particularly now that the stakes are not so high for Senate Democrats. And it’s possible, with enough pressure from the left, that the president will sign some of these legislative fixes into law.

But while Republicans slowly work to dismantle the big government health care infrastructure, they must also be prepared to present new ideas, whether substantial reforms or wholesale policies, that will tackle the underlying problem of our health care system and a major problem left unaddressed by Obamacare – the increasing cost of care and coverage.

And if they’re smarter than the Democrats, they’ll use the next two years to build public support for an Obamacare alternative, through a transparent and honest legislative process that doesn’t rely on deception and the “stupidity” of voters to pass.

Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.