Three years ago this month, after the downward-pointing thumb of John McCain put an end to the last of three Republican attempts to kill Obamacare, the Arizona senator issued a statement with ideas on how America could move forward to improve its health care system.
Among McCain’s suggestions: “heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors.”
One of those was Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, who’d been working with Republican and Democratic governors from states that had implemented the Affordable Care Act, dramatically reducing the number of people without health insurance in their states and protecting those with pre-existing conditions.
Hickenlooper and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, were probably the most prominent governors urging senators not to pass legislation that would upend health insurance coverage in their states and set back their successful efforts to reduce the ranks of the uninsured. Doug Ducey, a Republican, from McCain’s state of Arizona, was another governor who was speaking out at the time, seeking compromise.
And among the senators whom Hickenlooper and Kasich were hoping would hear their message: Colorado’s Cory Gardner.
Gardner was undoubtedly aware that Obamacare, which was adopted in Colorado in 2013 under Hickenlooper, had lowered Colorado’s uninsurance rate from about 16% to 6.5%, mostly through the health care law’s expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people. It allowed 40,000 young people in Colorado to remain on their parents’ insurance plans, and it protected the health insurance of about 2 million Coloradans with pre-existing conditions.
But despite the success of the ACA in his home state, and the efforts of Hickenlooper to convince him otherwise, Gardner voted three times in a row in July, 2017, to kill Obamacare, standing against McCain in the much-publicized final vote on July 28 of that year. (Over his career, Gardner voted seven times to repeal the ACA.)
“Coloradans told Gardner over and over in 2017 not to repeal the ACA, and he consistently voted to do just that,” said Adam Fox, Director of Strategic Outreach for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. “Gardner said he wanted to protect people with preexisting conditions, but he voted to strip away those protections.”
Gardner also said he wanted to reduce health insurance costs, which are rising under Obamacare, but Gardner and his fellow Republicans never produced a concrete replacement plan that slowed rising costs more than the ACA did or came close to matching Obamacare’s breadth of coverage and benefits.
A couple of months after the final vote on Obamacare, Hickenlooper and Kasich came out with a proposal that was limited in scope but had bipartisan support to shore up the ACA, not repeal it.
Gardner never spoke up in favor of the plan, and he continues to advocate tossing out Obamacare to this day.
Some say that by continuing his war to kill Obamacare, and not listening, as McCain suggested, to proposals, like Hickenlooper’s, to improve the national health care law, Gardner not only missed an opportunity to support an increasingly popular and successful national program but also to back up his claim to be an independent-minded senator willing to buck his party for the good of Colorado.
If he’d taken such a path, some say, it might have put him in better political shape today, with the election looming.