For a moment during Thursday's GOP debate, it looked like a leading Republican presidential candidate might actually explain how he intends to replace Obamacare.
And then -- poof -- the moment passed.
It happened when Fox News host and moderator Bret Baier asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about the Affordable Care Act -- and decided to press Cruz on what he intended to do about people now getting health insurance because of the law.
“If you repeal Obamacare, as you say you will, will you be fine if millions of people don't have health insurance? And what is your specific plan for covering the uninsured?” Baier asked.
It’s a fine question. The House, under Republican control, has voted more than 50 times to repeal the health care law. Just a few weeks ago, the Senate, also under GOP control, finally passed a repeal bill, as well. But neither chamber has had so much as a committee hearing to design a replacement. And with the notable exception of Jeb Bush, who actually put together a health care proposal with details, the Republican presidential candidates have been nearly as silent.
So how did Cruz answer the question? He began by offering a familiar, one-sided account of the the law’s impact -- saying it had raised premiums, taken insurance away from millions and caused millions more to lose their part-time jobs. Then he promised to “repeal every word of Obamacare,” prompting strong applause.
At this point Cruz had made two misleading statements -- about premiums and people losing policies -- and one statement -- about part-time jobs -- that was just plain false. But he still hadn’t answered Baier’s question.
And it turned out he had no intention of doing so. Cruz proceeded to explain that, with the health care law gone, he’d do three things: allow people to purchase insurance across state lines, decouple employment and insurance, and allow more people to use health savings accounts.
By themselves, these would do very little to help the uninsured get coverage. (Worse still, allowing cross-state purchasing would undermine state regulations on benefits, making it harder for people with serious medical problems to find comprehensive coverage.)
Truth is, Republicans don’t have a better alternative to the health care law. All of their plans result in far fewer people having insurance, or the people with insurance having much weaker coverage -- because making coverage available to all, at affordable prices, requires a combination of spending, taxes and regulation that Republicans can’t abide. (For a longer explanation, read this.)
Cruz, who is no dummy, knows this as well as anybody. But he also knows it sounds cruel to say he’d take away Obamacare without a replacement. And so he did what every other Republican does when pressed on his alternative: He dodged the question entirely.
Read more updates on the GOP debate here: