Sen. Murkowski supports repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate

Sen. Murkowski wrote a piece for an Alaska newspaper Tuesday announcing she would support repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate which is currently part of the GOP tax bill.

have always supported the freedom to choose. I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy in order to avoid being taxed. That is the fundamental reason why I opposed the Affordable Care Act from its inception and also why I cosponsored a bill to repeal the individual mandate tax penalty starting as early as 2013. And that is why I support the repeal of that tax today…

Alaskans pay the highest price for premiums in the country. That is why the number of people enrolled on the exchange in Alaska has shrunk every year since the ACA was passed. People have been forced out of the market by the high cost of insurance, with some often forced to pay a tax because the price of insurance was too high for them to afford.

A silver plan for a family of four, with a $9,000 deductible, will cost about $2,160 per month in 2018. If this family does not qualify for the advanced premium tax credits, they face the choice of paying almost $35,000 in 2018 just for health insurance premiums before their insurance really kicks in, or potentially paying a tax of $695 or 2.5 percent of their income. An individual could be paying around $709 per month for a plan with a $3,000 deductible. With no tax credits, that person would pay over $11,500 per year before insurance starts to help, or pay the tax for not having coverage…

Repealing the individual mandate simply restores to people the freedom to choose. Nothing else about the structure of the ACA would be changed.

The letter ends with Sen. Murkowski once again saying she strongly supports Alexander-Murray, a bill which would resume cost-sharing payments to insurers that were cut off by the Trump administration.

So where does this leave Obamacare? Well, the GOP can only afford two defections and still get this through (with a tie-breaking vote by VP Pence). Murkowski’s yes gives them a little wiggle-room but not much. Last Friday I tried to read the tea leaves and noted that Sen. McCain seemed to be making happy noises, so he seems to be leaning yes. Sen. Collins was more wobbly about including mandate repeal in the tax bill.

Last week, Sen. Ron Johnson objected to the bill on the grounds that it would favor big corporations over small businesses. Monday, Johnson said in a radio interview that he was pleased with the response he’s been getting from the Senate Finance Committee, so maybe his mood is improving. Meanwhile, Senators Collins and Corker also expressed some concerns about the tax provisions of the bill, though they haven’t announced opposition to it yet.

Overall, this seems to be shaping up better than the Obamacare repeal vote. Of course, that could change very quickly and Democrats will be doing their best to secure another GOP failure in the Senate. But the show of support from Murkowski yesterday could be a sign the Senate won’t be quite as wobbly this time around. McConnell apparently plans to hold a vote next week so we should have a clear idea very soon.