Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski will support repealing the individual mandate to buy insurance as part of the Senate’s controversial tax reform bill without any guarantees on health care.
Murkowski explained her position, which is a departure from what was suggested last week, in an editorial published today in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, taking a step closer to supporting the Senate’s tax plan.
“I have always supported the freedom to choose,” she wrote. “I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy in order to avoid being taxed. That is the fundamental reason why I opposed the Affordable Care Act from its inception and also why I cosponsored a bill to repeal the individual mandate tax penalty starting as early as 2013. And that is why I support the repeal of that tax today.”
Murkowski’s editorial comes two days after White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the White House would be OK with pulling the repeal from the bill, a move that many figured would appease moderate Republican senators like Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
Murkowski had voiced concerns about the inclusion of the individual mandate.
Last week, Murkowski suggested a vote on the repeal of the individual mandate as part of the Senate’s controversial tax bill should wait until the bipartisan market stabilization act in Alexander-Murray was adopted. She’s backed away from that suggestion, instead saying that she “strongly” supports Alexander-Murray and that it should be passed “as fast as possible.”
With Alaska’s highest in the nation insurance costs, Murkowski has been a steadfast opponent to the GOP’s many attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act this summer. The projections of those plans showed rates for many Alaskans, particularly older Alaskans, would have skyrocketed under those plans.
“All of those bills went far beyond the fundamental problems presented by the ACA and would have unnecessarily taken away access to care from those who need it most,” Murkowski said in her editorial, explaining why her new position doesn’t conflict with her past stances.
The repeal of the individual mandate is expected to see about 13 million fewer people drop out of the individual insurance marketplaces, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Insurance premiums are expected to rise about 10 percent because the people left with insurance will generally be older and sicker people.
The impact of repealing the individual mandate on Alaska is less clear than the damage that would have been wrought by the GOP repeals, but the emerging argument from Republicans is that the individual mandate is paid mostly by lower- and middle-class Americans. These numbers are backed up by the IRS, which says 58 percent of the people paying the penalty for not having insurance make less than $50,000 a year.
It’s an important talking point for the Republicans because just about every other part of the tax bill appears to favor big corporations and the wealthy.
Others also argue that the estimates for the number of people who will drop off is over-estimated. Nothing in the bill, at this time, will affect the availability of premium tax credit subsidies that help lower- and middle-class people buy insurance on the individual marketplace. Lower- and middle-class people will, generally speaking, have similar access to health insurance as long as insurers stay in the marketplaces, but it’s people making too much to qualify for the subsidies that could see the biggest impact in their rates if the repeal of the individual mandate remains in the bill.