NEW YORK >> Some Americans breathed a sigh of relief, others bubbled with frustration, and nearly all resigned themselves to the prospect that the latest chapter in the never-ending national debate over health care would not be the last.
The withdrawal of the Republican-sponsored health bill in the face of likely defeat Friday in the U.S. House seemed to ensure that the deep divisions over the Affordable Care Act and its possible replacement will continue to simmer.
As news spread, Americans fell into familiar camps, either happy to see a Democratic effort live another day, or eager to see Republicans regroup and follow through with their “repeal Obamacare” promises.
“Yessssss,” an elated 27-year-old artist, Alysa Diebolt of Eastpointe, Michigan, typed on Facebook in response to the news, saying she was relieved those she knows on Affordable Care Act plans won’t lose their coverage. “I’m excited, I think it’s a good thing,” she said.
Millions more shared her view, and #KillTheBill was a top trending topic on Twitter on Friday afternoon. Among those who have long sought to see Obama’s health law dismantled, though, there was disappointment or chin-up resolve that they still could prevail.
“Hopefully they’ll get it right next time,” said Anthony Canamucio, the 50-year-old owner of a barbershop in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania. He gave his vote to Trump in November and wanted to see Obama’s health law repealed, but found himself rooting for the GOP replacement bill to fail. He is insured through his wife’s employer, and laments the growing deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, blaming Obama’s law even as health economists say those trends in employer-provided health coverage preceded the legislation.
For Canamucio, the Republicans’ bill didn’t go far enough in dismantling the ACA. But he remains steadfast behind Trump and said he believes the president will still deliver.
Cliff Rouse, a 34-year-old banker from Kinston, North Carolina, likewise was willing to give the president he helped elect a chance to make good on his promise. He sees Obama’s law as government overreach, even as he knows it could help people like his 64-year-old father, who was recently diagnosed with dementia but refused to buy coverage under a law he disagreed with. Rouse sees Trump’s moves on health care as hasty, but believes the GOP will eventually come around with better legislation.
“They’ve not had enough time to develop a good plan,” Rouse said. “They should keep going until they have a good plan that Americans can feel confident in.”
It remained far more than a petty political debate, though, and some like Janella Williams, framed the issue as a question of life and death.
The 45-year-old graphic designer from Lawrence, Kansas, spent Friday in the hospital hooked up to an intravenous drip for a neurological disorder, getting the drugs that she says allow her to walk. Under her Affordable Care Act plan, she pays $480 a month for coverage and has an out-of-pocket maximum of $3,500 a year. If she were to lose it, she wouldn’t be able to afford the $13,000-a-year out-of-pocket maximum under her husband’s insurance. Her treatments cost about $90,000 every seven weeks.
As she followed the efforts to undo Obama’s law, Williams found herself yelling at the TV a lot. She wrote her senators, telling how she felt “helpless and out of control,” and how her hope was dwindling.
After watching coverage on Friday while tethered to a port in an outpatient area, she said when the bill was withdrawn, “I am thankful. I hope that this makes Trump the earliest lame duck ever.”
Whatever comes of the developments, they became the latest chapter in a long-running policy debate — from Teddy Roosevelt’s call for national health insurance in 1912, through waves of New Deal and Great Society legislation that brought Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but no comprehensive health system for all, to an unsuccessful attempt at universal coverage at the start of Bill Clinton’s administration. For now at least, Trump joins a list of American presidents who sought but failed to bring major health reform.
Trump has railed against the 2010 ACA since the start, and GOP leaders in Congress have rallied for its repeal with dozens of votes during the Obama years. Republicans won the chance to replace the health law with Trump’s win and control of both chambers of Congress.
“This is our opportunity to do it,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday. “We’ve talked about this thing since 2010. Every Republican … has campaigned, from dogcatcher on up, that they would do everything they could to repeal and replace ‘Obamacare.’”
Meantime, the Affordable Care Act has enjoyed growing approval with Obama’s departure from the White House and the emergence of details of Trump’s plan. For the first time, the law drew majority approval in a Pew Research Center poll last month, with 54 percent of Americans in favor.
Even some of Trump’s voters have come around to supporting the Obama law, or to a late realization that their coverage was made possible by it.
Walt Whitlow, a 57-year-old carpenter from Volente, Texas, gave Trump his vote even as he came to view Obama’s law as “an unbelievable godsend.” He went without health coverage for nearly 20 years, but after the ACA passed, he signed up. Two months later, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. He proclaims himself opposed to government handouts that he thinks people grow too dependent on, though he wouldn’t say what he hoped would happen with the GOP bill. Still, its withdrawal brought relief for a man who says his ACA coverage kept him from massive debt and maybe worse.
“It saved my life,” he said. “I really don’t know what to say.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri; Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; P. Solomon Banda in Broomfield, Colorado; Mike Householder in Detroit; Rachel D’Oro in Anchorage, Alaska; and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago.