Opinion: The debate has changed on the Obama health law

This week marked 11 years since Barack Obama signed his signature health overhaul into law. And despite years of loud protests from Republicans, the Obamacare system only seems to be taking deeper root.

That was borne out at a Tuesday hearing on Capitol Hill, as a U.S. House committee focused on ways to improve the current system.

Instead of familiar promises to ‘repeal and replace’ the Obama health law, some GOP lawmakers used the hearing to try to figure out how best to refine and improve it.

For U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler — long a critic of the Affordable Care Act — that means getting more Georgians to sign up for coverage.

“We’ve been working for the last two years to try to figure out why almost one million people that are uninsured and are eligible for subsidies have not enrolled in the exchange,” Carter said.

The South Georgia Republican estimated there are about 150,000 Georgians who could get a health insurance plan right now through the Obamacare exchange, where they would pay ‘zero, or single-digit premiums.’

Don’t get me wrong — Carter wasn’t offering an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act.

But the tenor of his comments unintentionally showcased a notably different situation for GOP lawmakers. Four years ago — with Donald Trump in the White House — they were doing everything they could to get rid of the Obama health law. Now that’s almost a political relic.

The complaints from Republicans at the state and federal level about the current system aren’t much different, as GOP officials still argue the plan isn’t fixing the problem of people going without health insurance coverage.

“Insurance is still far too costly,” Carter said. But he made no mention of the Republican calls to repeal the law, which began as soon as it was signed in 2010.

The 11th birthday of the Obama health law was also a reminder that Republicans have never been able to rally around a single legislative plan to replace the system, as Democrats used the new COVID relief law to expand insurance subsidies for the next two years.

“With new help for families in the American Rescue Plan, it’s a great time to sign up for health insurance at healthcare.gov,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee.

That same law also offers new incentives to Georgia and other states — which have resisted expanding Medicaid under Obamacare — to finally take that money from Uncle Sam.

“We must expand Medicaid in our state to insure more Georgians,” U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said this week.

The Obama health law has been under attack since its inception. Somehow, it has survived, and now seems to be prospering.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column will appear weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com