Looking in: Healthcare is ‘sticky downwards’

Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency, there is no barrier to finally repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They have called the law — which is otherwise known as Obamacare and has historically given the most Americans health insurance — “un-American,” “a freedom killer” and “Obama’s Katrina.” After voting over 60 times to get rid of it, they can finally do so without a presidential veto.

Or so they thought. After seven years of the ACA, many voters, including Republicans, have become accustomed to affording healthcare for the first time. That is why the Democrats had the ACA-supporting former Kentucky Governor Steve Bashear give the response to President Donald Trump’s address to Congress: to tout the positive impacts of the law in a deeply red state. Many Republican voters hated Obamacare for years, and now they are shouting at Mitch McConnell to protect the ACA.

The reason comes down to a concept familiar to most people who have taken an economics class. When talking about wages and how they increase, most people will see a graph shaped like a staircase that goes up toward the right. This is because wages usually remain unchanged for a long time and then increase all at once, not to go back down. This is what makes the labor market special: When the demand for labor goes down, the market would only clear if wages decrease, which is practically impossible. Almost no employee would willingly be paid less for the same job. So, wages are ‘sticky downwards’ because they refuse to go down once they have gone up.

Much like wages, healthcare is also ‘sticky downwards.’ Once you give Americans access to affordable healthcare, once you let them keep their parents’ plan until age 26, once you allow people with pre-existing conditions to get healthcare for the first time, there is no taking it back. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself ‘fiscally conservative,’ once you can afford medicine for your sick child because of the ACA, there is no way you will stand by while it gets repealed.

This is the problem with a law that is so profound and new. Many presidents, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, have invested time and energy to create a proper healthcare system in the United States. The ACA has come the closest to making this a reality, and the ACA does not even provide universal healthcare, it just covers more people than ever before.

It is a political impossibility for Republicans to repeal the ACA, take healthcare away from anyone and then still get re-elected; even in the most conservative district, they would lose their primary to a conservative who is pro-ACA. That’s why Congressional Republicans keep skipping town halls: they don’t have an alternative to offer that covers as many people. Obamacare is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is not bad, and the American public at large has finally come to terms with that.