I have a crazy, thinking-outside-the-box idea to improve America's health care system: Take Obamacare – the current law of the land – and make it better.
It took me 11 seconds to come up with that. And it's a measurably better idea than the health-care plan that congressional Republicans have spent the past seven years formulating.
How do I know it's better? Because Republicans presently control both houses of Congress and the presidency and still can't pass their own Obamacare replacement bill.
That means it's bad. Two-levels-below-the-sewer bad.
And how do I know it's bad? Because Republicans – when they weren't busy coming up with a health-care bill that is only slightly more popular than being hit in the face with a pan – spent the past seven years telling us that Obamacare is the biggest legislative abomination in history.
Ben Carson, now the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, once said it was "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery."
Sarah Palin said it would lead to "death panels."
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told seniors: "You're going to die sooner."
And Rep. Steve King of Iowa said of the Affordable Care Act: "This is an affront to God."
They set a bar so low an earthworm could trip over it. Basically, GOP lawmakers needed only to come up with something that met the "not an affront to God" standard and they would've been OK.
But they whiffed – spectacularly – despite having seven years to cook up a law that was better than the one they derided as the worst law ever.
Now, every voter who listened to the endless fear-mongering about Obamacare should look at the unraveling of the GOP's repeal-and-replace promise and acknowledge that their elected Republican officials are either profoundly incompetent or profoundly dishonest. Or, possibly, both.
Also, while Obamacare is a big, messy law with plenty of problems, it's far more popular than any of its critics are willing to acknowledge.
A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll lines up with other health care polling showing little public support (only 13 percent) for repealing the ACA without a replacement. And a striking 80 percent would like Republicans to negotiate with Democrats to make changes that would improve the existing law.
So which is better? My 11-second idea, or the burlap manure sack it took the GOP seven years to stitch?
I'll give you the answer: My idea is better. It has always been better. From the day the ACA became law, it has been clear that it needed improvements. Obama admitted as much when he was president.
But Republicans never wanted to improve it – they wanted it to die, and the only way to stay on the "Obamacare is an abomination" track was to wholly ignore any of the good it was doing.
That was easy to do when they knew their incessant attempts to repeal the law would be vetoed by Obama. They could hurl red meat at their base and puff out their chests and act like bold conservative warriors, knowing they'd never have to face the reality of millions of Americans losing health care.
But now they're running the show. There are no excuses. And yet, those who dreamed of seeing Obamacare repealed and unceremoniously stomped are left with ... Obamacare.
So we return to my idea, the one I invested a full 11 seconds to conjure. Take what we have – a law that has helped a lot of people while also causing problems that shouldn't be ignored – and figure out a way to make it better.
Everybody get on the same team and explain to the American people what the law is doing right – protecting people with preexisting conditions, helping lower-income people, keeping people away from insurance plans that cost little and provide even less. And then sort out what the law is doing wrong and find ways to remedy as many of those problems as possible.
We're paying the salaries of lawmakers, Republican and Democratic. And a whole group of those lawmakers spent the last seven years saying nothing could be worse than Obamacare. They twiddled their thumbs and shouted into cameras. And now you, the Obamacare hater, can see plain as day that you've been had. Swindled. Hoodwinked.
It stinks, but there's a clear path forward.
Tell congressional Republicans to make Obamacare better. Tell them to help people. Tell them to stop wasting everybody's time.
Tell them to do their jobs.
– Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email him at email@example.com.