Tribune Editorial: Don't let Obamacare fall apart

Mike Leavitt is right. Letting the ACA just collapse would harm millions of Americans.

FILE - In this April 23, 2007 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt speaks during a news conference at the Treasury Department in Washington. Don’t make things worse. That’s the advice of former U.S. health secretaries of both parties to President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress, now that “Obamacare” seems here for the foreseeable future. The 2018 sign-up season for subsidized private health plans starts Nov. 1, with about 10 million people currently being served through HealthCare.gov and its state counterparts. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Mike Leavitt is nobody’s idea of a radical.

So when the former Utah governor says that a deliberate decision to allow the Affordable Care Act to collapse would result in a crisis affecting millions of Americans, he means that it would be a bad thing.

Leavitt, a Republican who was elected governor three times before going on to run the Department of Health and Human Services for George W. Bush, is not one of those burning-down-the-house politicians who revels in the idea of a crisis to force the hand of the political establishment.

And, he told The Salt Lake Tribune the other day, he holds out hope that President Trump isn’t, either. Hope that presidential musings about how Congress should just ”let Obamacare fail” are not serious but a device to motivate Congress to act before such a disaster happens.

Leavitt’s call for action was joined by two other former governors who also served as head of HHS, Republican Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Democrat Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. All urged the president and Congress to do whatever they could to tighten the screws and plug the leaks of the ACA or, if they think that’s a lost cause, to come up with something better.

All were clear that any move to just let the whole system fall about our ears would be intensely irresponsible. It would cause millions of Americans to lose their access to affordable health care and be at risk, if not of deadly disease, then of bankruptcy.

The sentiment was rightly echoed Wednesday by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

A long-time critic of the ACA, Stewart had favored the Republican repeal-and-replace that made its way through the House earlier this year but died in the Senate. But, as he told the Tribune’s editorial board, the failure of that package leaves the ACA standing, and that makes it even more important that Congress to fix the flaws in that law or watch it collapse, taking the protection of millions of Americans along with it.

Yes, one might well argue that the bill Stewart voted for would have been a similar disaster. And that the shadow cast over the ACA’s future by congressional sniping is a large part of the reason for its instability.

But at least the congressman sees that something needs to be done.

Leavitt and Stewart are allowing themselves to think like something other than ideological bomb throwers. In thinking like principled conservatives, they may have serious doubts about the ability of government to do good things, but they are on guard against the government’s capacity to do something really bad.

And letting Obamacare collapse, just to have the satisfaction of watching a Democratic idea crash and burn, would be really, really bad.

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