The Senate confirmed Tom Price as secretary of health and human services at 2 a.m. on Friday. After a contentious confirmation process, the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress had finally installed one of the leading generals in its war on Obamacare in the department that oversees its programs. Price is a titan in the GOP camp that wants to repeal the health law, and is perhaps one of the few Republican lawmakers with both the vision and the experience needed to begin the daunting task.
But the battlefield under Price’s feet has shifted substantially in the past few weeks. Republicans have splintered, the timeline for repeal has dragged on and on, alternative plans have propagated in the fertile soil of disunion, and some have lost their resolve. And in the turmoil over the fate of Obamacare, the idea of universal health care has emerged as a third way among voters in both parties. The health system the mainstream GOP opposes most is now one some of its voters support—potentially making Price’s task of replacing Obamacare all the more complicated.
The political appeal of a single-payer, universal health-care system is perhaps best outlined by Jessi Bohon, a high-school teacher who attended a raucous and often angry town hall with Republican Representative Diane Black in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, last week:
Bohon was able to ask Black a question, and she began with a defense of Obamacare. “As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is pull up the unfortunate,” she said, referencing the law’s individual mandate and how requiring healthy Americans to purchase insurance lowers costs for the sick. But Bohon went a step further in her support of expanding coverage and her criticisms of the private insurers who’ve complicated the law: “Why don’t we expand Medicaid, and have everybody have insurance?” she asked.