Once the GOP gets tired of the circular firing squad over its failure to pass an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, it might want to take a look at how Hillary Clinton handled a similarly embarrassing health care disaster during her husband's presidency.
Despite the fact that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House in 1993, Clinton couldn't even get her Health Security Act to the floor of the Senate. The main reason for her failure — aside from her political ineptitude — was a series of "Harry and Louise" ads put out by the insurance industry.
In one of them, a couple sitting at a kitchen table pores over a pile of paperwork while the narrator says "the government may force us to pick from a few health care plans designed by government bureaucrats." The couple then says: "They choose. We lose."
The ads were devastating because they delivered a simple message: HillaryCare would take away the health plan you liked. It's why President Obama was so adamant about repeating his blatant "keep your plan" and "keep your doctor" lies when selling ObamaCare.
Arguably, the GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare — and replace it with something that was very much like ObamaCare — failed for similar reasons.
It was not just the political ineptitude of the Republican leadership that was to blame, but the fact that it seemed as if the GOP would be taking something away from people. Even though ObamaCare is failing, and even though its benefits have only been in place for three and a half years, those who gained were extraordinarily vocal about keeping their newfound benefits. It was all anyone talked about.
So what did Hillary do after the dismal failure of her comprehensive health reform? She and her fellow Democrats started pushing small-bore reforms that, by design, moved the health care system in the direction they wanted — toward more federal control over health care.
Clinton signed the Mental Health Parity Act that forced insurers to cover mental health the same way they cover other health care. He signed HIPAA, which aside from forcing patients to sign privacy statements over and over again at their doctors' office, also imposed various federal regulations on the insurance industry.
And in 1997, Clinton signed a bill creating the Children's Health Insurance Program, which let parents get their children on Medicaid even if they didn't qualify. The program, which started out with a budget of $4 billion a year, will spend close to $17 billion this year and now covers nearly 9 million children.
By the way, Clinton managed to get bipartisan support for all those efforts.
That's a good model for Republicans. If they can't get a straight ObamaCare repeal vote through Congress, they might consider Hillary's strategy — but in the opposite direction.
Push small reforms that can attract wide public support, but that — instead of expanding government's reach into health care — move health care in the free-market direction.
A perfect example of this is the "Consumer Freedom Option" that Sen. Ted Cruz proposed as an amendment at the 11th hour in hopes of salvaging the Senate's health bill. Cruz's proposal was simple: Give people a choice. They can buy an ObamaCare plan that provides all the protections and guarantees that exist under ObamaCare today — and at ObamaCare's hugely inflated prices — or they can buy non-ObamaCare insurance for a lot less.
As it stands today, ObamaCare has become unaffordable for millions of Americans who don't qualify for its subsidies.
Health insurance industry expert Robert Laszewski notes that "it is now not uncommon to see the lowest-cost unsubsidized plan in a market for a family cost at least $1,000 a month, $12,000 a year, with an individual deductible in the $6,000 to $7,000 range."
Next year will be worse, as premiums continue to skyrocket and choices shrink.
Since only about half of the individual market is eligible for ObamaCare subsidies, "households that make more than 400% of the federal poverty level and get no premium subsidies and pay the full cost of premiums, out-of-pocket costs and any big rate increases — these people are getting clobbered," Laszewski says.
The GOP could offer these middle-class families an out with a stand-alone Cruz-type plan, and dare Democrats to block them.
Republicans could also push for expanded Health Savings Accounts and various other insurance reforms they've been talking about for years that would increase choice and competition, knowing that President Trump would sign them into law.
As a bonus, they'd be pushing all these free-market reforms against the backdrop of a failing, government-run ObamaCare that even Democrats now tacitly admit isn't living up to its promise of affordable care.
Democrats have perfected the art of incremental socialism. Republicans would be wise to do the same in the direction of limited government and free markets.