- - Monday, February 13, 2017


He’s not an obstetrician, but Dr. Tom Price better know how to deliver. The Atlanta physician and member of Congress survived a bruising confirmation battle en route to a 52-47 party-line Senate confirmation to become the new secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s the point man for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, which was President Trump’s most important domestic pledge to voters. Success or failure will determine soon whether the doctor — and his boss in the Oval Office — are heroes or goats. The clock is ticking.

Moving America from one health care law to a new one carries the challenges of a heart transplant in which the patient must be kept alive artificially while the diseased organ is swapped for the new and healthy. A majority of Americans want to replace Obamacare, but few are ready to lose their coverage or see costs climb while Congress puzzles over an alternative. President Obama paid dearly for his unkept promise that “if you like your health care plan you can keep it,” and the public is in no mood for another broken health-care promise.

Matt Drudge, with a sensitive finger on the national pulse, warns that if there’s no progress on Obamacare the “Republican Party should be sued for fraud.” It’s only been three weeks since new Trump administration rolled into town, but these are raucous times. With angry Democrats in resistance mode to all things Republican, the only effective counter is results.

Mr. Trump struck a first blow against Mr. Obama’s big-government health care debacle with his Inauguration Day executive order directing all federal agencies to prepare to dismantle Obamacare by granting individuals, insurance companies and the states leeway in enforcing replacement. Republicans had originally boasted of plans to repeal the existing law by Jan. 27, but the sound of knocking knees drowned such talk. House Speaker Paul Ryan says repeal should begin by the end of March and Mr. Trump says the entire repeal-and-replace procedure may not be completed until 2018.

As lawmakers settle on a schedule, the key to success is unleashing the power of free markets that Mr. Obama bound tightly. The Obamacare replacement should feature an insurance market in which companies can sell their policies across state lines, give consumers a wider choice of coverage at a price appropriate for their age and health conditions. There should be no place for tax-paid contraceptive coverage, which violates the conscience of millions of Americans and drives up costs.

A majority of Obamacare’s 20 million enrollees joined without enthusiasm because the health care law terminated their old plan and the tax penalty for noncompliance reached $695 per adult. Millions would opt for a no-frills alternative plan if the law allowed. As Congress searches for ways to subsidize care for the truly needy, legislators could start by forswearing their own sweetheart coverage at taxpayer expense. Congress, as always, looks out first for itself.

Dr. Price must persuade Americans that by re-establishing the doctor-patient relationship, health insurance is a benefit rather than a burden. With Republicans dominating the White House and Capitol Hill, momentum is theirs now, but nothing recedes like success. Mr. Trump must move that rock soon, or suffer Sisyphean consequences.

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