Pence: No one will "fall through the cracks" in ObamaCare repeal

Last night, Vice President Mike Pence fulfilled his office’s traditional role when the president speaks to Congress: remain in the background and lead the applause. This morning, Pence has taken the lead among the administration’s surrogates, hitting the morning news shows to boost Donald Trump’s well-received presidential address. The most contentious issue raised last night was ObamaCare, and Pence tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on the set of Good Morning America that Trump takes the transition very seriously. The top principle, Pence says, will be to ensure that no one “falls through the cracks”:

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Vice President Mike Pence today said “no one is going to fall through the cracks” in President Trump’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare amid fears that those who have health coverage now will lose it.

“What the president wants the Congress to do is to create a framework for people to be able to afford coverage,” Pence said on ABC News’ “Good Morning America.” “I think the president has made it clear, no one is going to fall through the cracks in this.”

How does one define falling through the cracks? Does it mean not being able to afford less-expensive plans in the future, or does it mean any interruption in the status quo? Stephanopoulos tried three times to define it as the latter, asking Pence repeatedly whether Trump’s plan would “guarantee that no one loses coverage?”

Recall that ObamaCare itself didn’t meet that standard. Despite dozens of promises from Barack Obama himself that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” millions of Americans had their plans canceled in October 2013 for being non-ACA compliant. Over the course of succeeding enrollment periods, many more continued to lose their existing plans as insurers bailed out of marketplaces and consolidated their offerings. Stephanopoulos’ question applies every year to the current system, even if the media isn’t quite as interested in covering the answer to it.

However, the media will get very interested in each and every case of canceled coverage when Republicans repeal and replace ObamaCare, and Republicans know it. That’s why a large number of them want a replacement plan ready to approve either at the same time as repeal or very quickly afterward. They understand the political risks involved — and so does Pence and Trump himself, who warned Congress last night to ensure a “stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.” Fair or not, the Trump administration understands that they will get judged harshly on any failure in that process.

To say that this has made some Republicans on Capitol Hill a little risk adverse is an understatement. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to unwind ObamaCare unilaterally. The best policy is a rapid repeal to take effect at the end of the current insurance cycle, and then challenge Democrats to work on a replacement. As long as ObamaCare and its top-down control of health insurance markets is still in existence, they will fight tooth and nail to keep it. Only after getting rid of it entirely first will there be an opening for another approach.

Republicans — including Trump — ran on this promise for the last several years. They may take some heat in the transition, but it’s nothing compared to what will happen if they don’t show some courage and deliver on this promise. Not only will it be a massive betrayal of voters who have elected them largely on this issue, it will make it look like the Democrats had the right answer all along, regardless of how disastrous it has proven to be. Republicans may be between a rock and a hard place, but they put themselves there — and they’d better take action to resolve it, the more quickly the better.