State of Individual Mandate in Play After Jones’ Alabama Win

Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama Senate election scored a huge upset by Democrats in what many also considered a win for morality, as it resulted in the defeat of the controversial Republican candidate, Roy Moore.

But what effect will Jones’ win have on the individual mandate and the GOP-backed tax bill? It could be quite impactful.

When Jones is sworn in, the Republican advantage in the Senate will be narrowed to 51-49. The GOP’s previous 52-seat majority allowed it two votes it could afford to lose on any piece of healthcare legislation, with Vice President Mike Pence playing the role of tie-breaker.

The two-vote buffer gave President Donald Trump some breathing room as his supporters attempted to whip votes on Capitol Hill from Republican senators like Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who are moderate or have displayed a penchant for opposing Trump.

Numerous attempts by Trump to directly repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) this year have all fizzled. So, the president has taken to dismantling the law in piecemeal fashion, with the latest jab being a provision in the tax bill that would do away with the individual mandate, which under Obamacare requires citizens to have health insurance coverage that meets minimum standards or else faces a tax penalty.

Unlike the failed attempts at doing away with Obamacare, Trump’s tax bill has a very good chance of passing, with a number of moderate Republicans signing off on it after being promised various assurances.

But now that Jones has scored what was once considered an unthinkable Democratic win in Alabama, you can bet Trump and his most ardent backers on Capitol Hill will be rushing that tax bill to a vote before Christmas. If they didn’t feel the heat to do so before, Jones’ presence in the chamber is sure to make them feel it now because a razor-thin majority with one vote to play with almost certainly spells defeat if the Democrats vote along party lines.

Jones is reportedly expected to be sworn in anytime between Dec. 27 to Jan. 3. You can bet Democratic leaders want it as soon as possible, and that their Republican counterparts wanted a House and Senate vote on the tax bill yesterday.

The future prospects of Obamacare hang in the balance, as the individual mandate is a key component of the landmark legislation. If it’s repealed, it would remove a good number of healthier beneficiaries from the insurance pool, likely result in across-the-board higher premiums, and further disrupt the already shaky foundation of the health insurance exchanges.

Chris Silva is a senior analyst at DRG and specializes in information technology, telehealth and big data, among other topics. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisSilvaDRG