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Trump on health care: ‘Nobody knew it could be so complicated’

A woman walks past a sign advertising "Obamacare," Jan. 31, 2017, in Miami, Fl. President Donald Trump called the Affordable Care Act a “failed disaster” and told insurance company executives that the U.S. will replace it with “extraordinary” health care that will be “better than any other country anywhere in the world.”
A woman walks past a sign advertising "Obamacare," Jan. 31, 2017, in Miami, Fl. President Donald Trump called the Affordable Care Act a “failed disaster” and told insurance company executives that the U.S. will replace it with “extraordinary” health care that will be “better than any other country anywhere in the world.” AP

President Donald Trump promised Monday to replace the Affordable Care Act with “extraordinary” health care that will be “better than any other country anywhere in the world.”

But he acknowledged the subject matter, is, well, pretty difficult.

“It’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump told the nation’s governors gathered at the White House. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Trump’s remarks came as members of Congress returned to Washington on Monday, anxious to deliver on a campaign promise to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment, but worried that a week of rowdy town hall protests have emboldened Democratic efforts to blunt their efforts.

Trump said he had talked about a health care overhaul with Republican governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida, whom he called “really very expert on the subject.” He thanked the pair, saying “they spent a lot of time with me.”

Despite the complexities, Trump told the governors that Republicans plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and give states “the flexibility that they need to make the end result really, really good for them.”

Speaking before Republican and Democratic governors, including several who expanded Medicaid coverage under the law, Trump insisted the 2010 law has failed. His administration has already begun chipping away at the law, and Trump said Republicans could have done “politically something good” by waiting for the law to collapse.

“Let it be a disaster because we can blame that on the Dems that are in our room and we can blame that on the Democrats and President Obama,” he said. “Let it implode and then let it implode in ’18 even. Don’t do anything and they will come begging for us to do something.”

Yet Trump underscored what many congressional Republicans are worried about as they begin looking at repealing the health care plan that has extended health care coverage to 20 million Americans.

“As soon as we touch it, if we do the most minute thing, just a tiny little change, what’s going to happen? They’re going to say it’s the Republicans’ problem,” Trump said. “That’s the way it is. But we have to do what’s right because Obamacare is a failed disaster.”

Noting polls that suggest Obamacare has never been more popular, Trump insisted it’s because it’s on the way out.

“You see it with politicians, you see it with President Obama, when you know he’s getting out of office and the clock is ticking and he’s not going to be there, his approval rating goes way up,” Trump said. “I see it happening with Obamacare. People hate it, but now they see that the end is coming and they’re saying, ‘Oh, maybe we love it.’ There’s nothing to love. It’s a disaster, folks. OK? So you have to remember that.”

Trump later met with key stakeholders in the health care debate: chief executive officers of some of the country’s largest insurers. He pledged to them that the U.S. would have peerless health care, and joked if not, he’d blame the executives.

Trump suggested a few tweaks of his own, including expanded health care savings account, giving states more flexibility and providing insurers with the ability to sell health insurance across state lines -- a suggestion that critics say could lead to the sale of bare bones insurance plans.

Congressional Republicans have thus far failed to reach agreement on a plan to repeal the law. A leaked draft of the House Republican legislation to dismantle it drew sharp criticism last week from health care advocates and Democrats who say the proposal would irrevocably weaken the nation’s health care system.

Democrats and proponents of the law also sought to step up their efforts. Save My Care, a coalition of health care advocates and consumers, launched a web campaign Monday using audio from a secretly recorded meeting of Republican members of Congress to accuse them of admitting behind closed doors that they won’t deliver the health care coverage that they’ve promised.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are expected Tuesday to invite constituents who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act to attend Trump’s joint address to Congress as their guests.

The Democratic group American Bridge answered Trump’s remarks about the difficulties of health care in an email: “Nearly 1.7 million Americans received a cancer diagnosis last year. One American has a heart attack every 42 seconds. Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. Those are the families who know health care is complicated.”

It added, “Now that he’s president, Trump better start thinking about the families who will lose health care if he repeals the ACA to give tax breaks to billionaires.”

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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