House Speaker Paul Ryan announced in early April that he will be leaving office in January after a nearly 20-year career in Congress. The response has been mixed, not to mention divided along party lines. Ryan will vacate his position in government without accomplishing two of his more highly publicized political goals: entitlement reform and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Ryan joins 37 other sitting Republican members of the House who will not be running for reelection in the fall. Only 18 Democrats are not running for reelection in the House, leaving a lot of ambiguity in the political landscape for 2019 and beyond, especially as it relates to healthcare reform and the future of Obamacare.
Ryan’s legacy may simply be uncertainty when it comes to healthcare policies. In March 2017, he faced the challenge of a divided House regarding the repeal of the ACA after President Trump took office. Division won out, and the Speaker was forced to abandon his goal of replacing Obamacare with a conservative alternative. Instead, the House passed a compromised healthcare bill by a narrow margin only to see it die in the Senate over the summer. Though Ryan was not successful in repealing Obamacare, he and fellow conservative lawmakers were successful in eliminating the individual mandate penalty and in expanding short-term healthcare plans.
The Future of Healthcare Reform
It’s been assumed that repealing and replacing Obamacare is a lost cause at this point, but many Republicans disagree. As Ryan prepares for his departure from politics, doubt looms in the House regarding what will happen next in healthcare reform discussions. Individual market premiums are likely to increase once again just before the elections in November. When they do spike, the blame will more than likely be placed on Republicans since they failed to uphold their promise to voters to replace Obamacare. Backlash from rising premiums and failed attempts at repealing the ACA could potentially sway the election in favor of a Democratic Congress.
Even if Republicans keep a majority in the House and Senate after the November elections, they’ll need to come together to hammer out a solid plan if they hope to retain their seats and their reputations. Tired of waiting for the federal government to take action, several individual states have been forced to resort to their own devices. They are operating within the margins to keep healthcare and premium costs down.
Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, isn’t alone in celebrating Ryan’s retirement announcement. Richtman believes that without Ryan in the House, Medicare and Social Security benefits will no longer have a “dark cloud hanging over their heads” – Ryan has been a major champion of entitlement reform.
In Ryan’s absence, few lawmakers remain to carry the torch of healthcare reform. All things considered, an overhaul of the ACA anytime in the foreseeable future is unlikely. Hopeful Democrats want Ryan to join them through the end of his term to work together to provide a better future for all Americans. But it remains to be seen how realistic that hope is. With the next election season quickly approaching, it’s highly unlikely that the Speaker will be able to accomplish his goals before leaving office.