A View From Washington: Where Do We Go From Here?
April 2017

Magic Eight Ball Says “Reply Hazy, Try Again”

Brent Ewig
Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs, AMCHP

Do you remember the famous Magic Eight Ball toy which allows you to ask a question, shake the ball and then flip the window to the top where an answer is revealed? Well, if you had asked the magic ball anytime over the past seven years if the Republican Party was united in its intention to repeal and replace Obamacare, the answer would have been, “Without a doubt.”

But despite unified control of both the legislative and executive branches, the Republican party began to show some fissures through the process of drafting legislation and finalizing important details. Over the past few weeks, the Eight Ball started to generate a different answer on whether the crafting of replacement legislation could continue that unity: “Concentrate and ask again.” This in some sense is a variation of President Trump’s announcement after discussing health policy with our nation’s governors: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject.”

Sure enough, in the run-up to the planned March 23 vote on the House American Health Care Act, the ball’s response to every question about the bill’s fate was, “Cannot predict now.” In the end, when the speaker of the House and the president made a last scramble to find enough votes for passage, the response became a rather curt, “Don’t count on it.” And so, without a majority, the bill was pulled from consideration on March 24.

Where do we go from here? While the Eight Ball analogy provides perhaps some badly needed comic relief, we all recognize the human lives and livelihoods at stake in this debate. With so many families struggling to find and keep affordable care, the uncertainty about the fate of our national health policy over the past few years can’t help but increase anxiety. It’s telling that our policy session at AMCHP 2017 was entitled, MCH Policy in an Uncertain Environment. The future of federal health care law and funding was a big part of the discussion.

Because we are a national nonpartisan organization representing MCH leaders in states across the political spectrum, we’ve had to navigate a careful approach to this ongoing debate while remaining true to our mission to advocate for the needs of women, children and families. While the recent failure of repeal-and-replace legislation adds to uncertainty, it also opens the slight but distinct possibility leaders from both sides of the aisle will soon realize that no major legislation can proceed without bipartisan support.

Part of AMCHP’s job is to help our members understand how what happens (or doesn’t happen) in Washington impacts their ability to carry our programs and policies at the state and local levels that improve maternal and child health status. Will the recent failure of repeal-and-replace legislation make that job harder or easier in the months to come? The Magic Eight Ball says, “Reply hazy, try again.”