‘Repeal now, replace later’ for health care is really mean

How many Jedi mind tricks can Republicans successfully play on a weary American public? Their powers to plant suggestions in the minds of many voters, coaxing them to turn on their own health care security, are undeniable. But can the magic go on forever?

Implanting the idea of repealing Obamacare now in return for a mystery plan in some unspecified future would be a mind trick for the ages. It’s also a transparent setup. Get rid of the Affordable Care Act, and then — with the protections gone — make an offer the public can’t refuse: Our crumbs or nothing.

Such audacity is clearly an act of desperation. The public hasn’t exactly cheered the so-called Republican moderates’ plan to slash benefits and strip coverage for many millions — or conservative proposals to basically ditch the health reforms altogether. Polls gave the House GOP plan a pathetic 16 percent approval rating and the Republican Senate version only 17 percent.

If you can’t sell a program on the details, get rid of the details. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska started the ball rolling by urging the immediate repeal of “as much of Obamacare as is possible” while not taking away benefits for a year. President Trump says he’s on board.

Conservative lawmakers who condemned the House and Senate proposals as too nice are especially enthusiastic. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted, “Let’s keep our word to repeal then work on replacing right away.”

Now, if you’re going to replace Obamacare in short order, why repeal it right away? And if you’re going to leave Obamacare benefits in place for a year, why not repeal it in a year? What’s the hurry?

This makes zero sense unless the real agenda is to put off the pain of losing Obamacare until it’s too late to stop the dismantling. Stave off a public revolt while setting the timer ticking to automatically destruct the program a few months hence.

In a similar fashion, the Senate bill would delay the cuts in benefits until after the midterm elections. Clever, no?

While congressional action grabs most of the attention, a bigger and sneakier threat to the Affordable Care Act is already in motion. It is Plan B: Destabilize the insurance markets that have kept Obamacare afloat. And you don’t need legislation to do that.

From his first day in office, President Trump has been sabotaging the insurance markets from behind the scenes. He cut off funding for ads during the Obamacare enrollment period. He threatened to pull Obamacare subsidies for low-income people. He issued a call to stop the IRS from enforcing the mandate to obtain coverage.

That some of these things have not (yet) come to pass matters not. Their point is to rattle the insurers. These actions all discourage healthy people from signing on as the sick obtain coverage no matter what. The result is an unsustainable insurance pool forcing insurers to jack up rates, thus discouraging more heathy enrollees.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, for example, has publicly blamed its planned rate hike of 23 percent on uncertainty from the government. Otherwise, the increase would have been 9 percent.

The Affordable Care Act has certainly had problems, but they were fixable. Premiums were already stabilizing, and enrollment was set to boom until Trump and fellow gremlins got out the monkey wrenches — creating a “crisis” to freak out the insurers and pressure the public.

As for the visible efforts to doom Obamacare, serial failure seems to have left foes with the ultimate fantasy gambit: Offer a definite repeal and an invisible replacement.

This could be a mind trick too far. May the Force be with those unwilling to submit.

* Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop.