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Obamacare

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(AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Republicans are facing the old axiom of “be careful what you wish for,” following a federal court hearing this week indicating the Affordable Care Act could be in jeopardy. A Republican-led lawsuit seeking to kill Barack Obama’s signature health care law now appears to have a chance of success.

So why are top Republicans talking down this development and vowing to restore the protections they themselves are suing to remove? Could it be the potential political cost of “winning” this suit is finally dawning on them? After all, an estimated 20 million Americans could be thrown off their health care plans or be denied affordable coverage for cancer, diabetes and other preexisting medical conditions.

Make no mistake: If that happens, it will be nothing more or less than the fruition of the Republican Party’s

No. 1 stated policy goal of the past decade. Win or lose in court, no one should forget that fact in next year’s elections — least of all those millions of Americans faced with the possibility of being suddenly cast back to the bad old days of a health care system divided between haves and have-nots.

Obamacare began with the premise that no American should have to go without adequate medical coverage based on the inability to afford it. Previously, even people with good jobs often couldn’t afford coverage for preexisting conditions because insurers routinely refused to insure them, or would do so only at astronomical premiums.

A key provision of the Affordable Care Act was to require that insurers cover preexisting conditions at reasonable premiums. It also required everyone to buy medical insurance or pay a penalty — the much-debated “mandate” — in order to provide insurance companies with a base of healthy, profitable customers to offset the money they’d lose covering patients with preexisting conditions.

After years of trying and failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, congressional Republicans settled for gutting the mandate, reducing to zero the penalty for people who refuse to buy insurance. Then a group of red-state elected officials — including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., then Missouri’s attorney general — sued to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, arguing it couldn’t stand without the penalty.

Two of the three judges who heard oral arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday appeared sympathetic to that argument, according to multiple media reports. Top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were suddenly vowing to protect people with preexisting conditions should the suit ultimately remove their coverage.

Why would anyone believe that? There’s already a program in place that protects people with preexisting conditions — it’s called the Affordable Care Act. Getting rid of it has been the GOP’s overriding obsession for years. Americans who want to preserve that coverage shouldn’t turn to the party that has relentlessly tried to end it; they should turn out at the polling places in November 2020.