In a continuation of the 2017 truism that Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are never truly dead, a gang of House and Senate lawmakers led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) are working to insert a provision into the long-awaited tax reform bill that would gut the ACA’s individual mandate.
“I’ve been working for some time with the House Ways and Means Committee and our Finance Committee,” Cotton told reporters Monday night. “Almost every colleague with whom I have spoken is favorably disposed to repealing the individual mandate of Obamacare as part of our tax package.”
Cotton’s habitual refusal to speak to the press is well-known on Capitol Hill; reporters usually traipse after the tall, lanky senator calling out questions only to receive a robotically repeated “No comment” in response. Yet on Monday night, Cotton held a rare gaggle in the Senate’s basement to tout his efforts to kill the individual mandate using the soon-to-be-introduced tax bill as a vehicle.
“This does not take insurance away from a single person,” said Cotton. “It does not cut a dime from Medicaid or the insurance subsidies. It simply says the IRS will not fine you if you cannot afford insurance. And it would save us $300 billion over ten years and even more after that.”
Cotton’s office did not respond to TPM’s inquiry as to his source for that budget-saving estimate, but it appears to come from a 2011 report by the Congressional Budget Office that found the government would only save money because repealing the mandate would “substantially reduce the number of people with health insurance coverage.”
Not only would millions of young and healthy Americans choose to go uninsured because there is no penalty, the report found, but millions more who need and want it would be priced out of the market because premiums would shoot up to cover a disproportionately sick population.
With an estimated 16 million fewer people insured, the CBO estimated, the government would save hundreds of billions in the subsidies and tax credits they would have had to pay to cover those individuals, even as the U.S. loses the significant revenue of a few million people paying the penalty.
“Ultimately, the way to get people to buy insurance is to make their insurance affordable and tailored towards their personal needs, not to force them to buy it,” Cotton argued. “The mandate obviously has not worked. That’s why almost seven million people chose to go without health insurance last year and pay a fine. They have all the costs of not having insurance and they’re paying a fine to the IRS.”
Republican leaders in the Senate, however, are wary of the proposal—noting that tax reform will be hard enough to pass on its own without throwing in controversial health care provisions that some Republicans repeatedly rejected in a series of failed votes this summer.