Fear, obsession behind state officials’ ongoing opposition

“Let me tell you what we’re doing (about ObamaCare),” Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans in Floyd County earlier this month: “Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

After pausing to let applause roll over him, a grinning Hudgens went on to give an example of that obstructionist behavior, this one involving so-called “navigators” who are being hired to guide customers through the process of buying health insurance on marketplaces, or exchanges, set up under the federal program.

“We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance,” Hudgens said. “The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we’ll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we’re going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write ‘navigator test’ on it.”

Hudgens clearly thought that was a pretty cute way for state officials to obstruct and delay implementation of the program and to ensure that it doesn’t work well for Georgians. Judging from their reaction, his audience thought so too. The question is why he thinks such steps are necessary.

After all, if ObamaCare is the looming disaster that he and other Republicans claim it will be, wouldn’t it be wiser to simply step back and let it fail on its own lack of merits? Why must it be undermined through active, direct — and thanks to Hudgens, now candidly confessed — sabotage on the part of state officials?

Other state insurance commissioners, for example, have used their authority to try to lower premiums on policies that will be offered through the exchanges. Hudgens’ comments make it clear that he has no interest whatsoever in such actions. If Georgians have to pay higher rates as a result, that is an outcome that apparently he would proudly applaud if it makes ObamaCare more unpopular.

But still, why would you take pride in making it harder for Georgians with pre-existing conditions to get the insurance coverage that had previously been denied to them, and that might save them from potential bankruptcy or even death? Why would you block the federal government from offering Medicaid coverage to more than 600,000 lower-income Georgia citizens, coverage that would allow them to compensate hospitals and doctors now forced to treat them for free? Why refuse to educate uninsured Georgians on the fact that they will soon be eligible for subsidies to help them pay for health insurance, as other states are doing?

The answer is two-fold: Obsession and fear.

The obsession is all-too-easily documented. In Washington, House Republicans have held 40 separate votes — every single one of them clearly futile — to try to repeal all or part of ObamaCare. A large part of the conservative base is demanding that party leaders force a shutdown of government this fall rather than allow ObamaCare to be implemented, and when House Speaker John Boehner tries to explain the damage that tactic would do to their party, he has been rewarded with threats to relabel the program BoehnerCare.

Here in Georgia, the obstructionism celebrated by Hudgens is merely an extension of that obsession. In fact, you get the sense that the loathing of ObamaCare and the emotional unity and common purpose that loathing inspires within the GOP has become so important that ObamaCare itself is almost an afterthought.

The fear is obvious as well. By making opposition to ObamaCare the central organizing principle of the party in recent years, GOP leaders have taken an enormous gamble. Already in deep demographic trouble, they understand that even a marginally successful ObamaCare would knock the ideological underpinnings from the party as well. On the other hand, to the degree that ObamaCare is deemed a failure, they can claim vindication for that ideology.

In fact, there’s a saying that Republicans run for office on the notion that government can do nothing right, and that once in office they set out to prove it. Rarely has that dynamic been more glaringly obvious than on ObamaCare.