King vs. Burwell: GOP should seize opportunity to tackle future of America's health care

As the Supreme Court hears arguments in King v. Burwell, the case on the legality of ObamaCare’s subsidies, the Obama Administration and its allies are setting the stage to cast Republicans as the villain if the decision doesn’t go their way.

This case presents a real opportunity for those who believe that the Affordable Care Act is fundamentally flawed and must be replaced.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has testified that the administration has no contingency plan in place to help the millions of Americans that could be displaced from their subsidized health insurance coverage.

This case presents a real opportunity for those who believe that the Affordable Care Act is fundamentally flawed and must be replaced.

Liberal commentators are doing their best to portray a doomsday scenario for the American health care system if the plaintiffs in the case are victorious.  And most importantly, President Obama is sure to blame Republicans if the impact of the case is lost coverage or higher premiums.

There is a talented field of potential Republican candidates for the presidency in 2016, however, who should see the King case as an opportunity to make important arguments about the future of the American health care system.  While the candidates won’t all agree on the specific policy response to the case, they should all agree that those who could lose their coverage need to be helped and that the fundamental problems with ObamaCare won’t be fixed until there are conservative reforms enacted to replace it.

There is a tendency for presidential candidates to be risk-averse -- to avoid commenting on substantive matters in any meaningful way -- particularly during the “invisible primary” phase of the campaign.  Some of this caution is not only warranted, but advisable.  However, failing to respond to what happens in King v. Burwell would be wasting a crucial opportunity to make several important points.

First, it’s an opportunity for the candidates to demonstrate that Republicans have a viable set of reforms to replace the Affordable Care Act.  Liberals have consistently repeated the untruth that conservatives have no plan to replace ObamaCare.  These claims come despite the fact that there are several plausible proposals advanced by conservatives, including legislation recently introduced by Senator Richard Burr, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, which reduces premiums, expands private coverage, and reduces the deficit.

The Republican presidential contenders need to use their platform to push back on the “no plan” liberal myth.  After all, the GOP standard-bearer in 2016 will ultimately have to not only articulate the reasons for ObamaCare’s failures, but also lay out a better alternative to put in its place.

Second, the King case gives the GOP presidential contenders the opportunity to point out how badly drafted and poorly conceived ObamaCare really was.  The core constitutional issue in the case is whether we should read the law literally or broadly -- because if we read it literally, people living in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchange should never have had access to subsidies for coverage in the first place.

In fact, Democrats who drafted the law wanted to limit access to the subsidies to residents of states who set up their own exchanges precisely so governors and state legislatures would be incentivized to partner with the federal government to implement ObamaCare.

This is not a manufactured crisis. The Republican presidential candidates have the opportunity to make the argument and reinforce the idea that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress had every opportunity to make their intentions clear when they wrote the Affordable Care Act.  The blame for their failure to do so sits squarely with them.

Finally, Republicans considering a run for the presidency have the opportunity to help shape the substance of whatever policy is passed by Congress should a response be necessary after King is decided.  While many Republican congressional leaders have expressed that they are working on a contingency plan, it’s clear that some work must still be done.  These candidates, then, are in a unique position to encourage Republicans in Congress to come to agreement on a response to King that meets three goals: First, provide some form of temporary relief to help those who might lose their subsidies as a result of the Court’s decision; second, empower states -- particularly those who did not establish their own exchanges -- to craft health care reforms that work for their own residents; and finally, lay the groundwork and advance the case for future efforts to replace ObamaCare with conservative health reforms.

There exists the potential for internecine warfare within the conservative movement on the response to King.  Such a response would squander the tremendous policy opportunity presented by a favorable ruling in the case -- and do political harm to the Republican Party and its efforts to recapture the White House in next year’s elections.

Presidential contenders should resist the temptation to draw distinctions amongst themselves on the specific question of how Congress should respond to King.  Instead, they should find common ground in the effort to promote a response to the case that is both substantively sound and politically attractive.

If history is any guide, the Obama administration and its allies will likely spend the next several months scaring the American people into believing that if the Court decides for the challengers of ObamaCare, the American health care system is headed for disaster.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  This case presents a real opportunity for those who believe that the Affordable Care Act is fundamentally flawed and must be replaced.  Now, the Republican presidential candidates need to seize that opportunity, advocate for reforms to help those who might be affected, and put ObamaCare’s supporters on the defensive.