WASHINGTON — Nearly three years ago, former Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis took a stand against the Affordable Care Act more commonly known as Obamacare.
Davis was a Democratic candidate for governor of Alabama at the time and some accused him of siding with Republicans on health care for political purposes. Rev. Jesse Jackson went as far as to say Davis couldn’t call himself “a black man” for opposing Obamacare.
“We even have blacks voting against the health care bill,” Jackson said in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in November 2009. “You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man.”
Davis went on to lose the Democratic nomination for the Alabama gubernatorial race by a surprising 62-38 percent margin to then-Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks.
Two years earlier, African-Americans came out in large numbers for then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama. At the time of his race for governor, many expected that Davis — running to be the first African American in Alabama to win his party’s nomination — could rekindle that enthusiasm. But it wasn’t meant to be for Davis. And one of the reasons for Davis’ defeat, some say, is that he didn’t back Obama on healthcare reform.
It has been three years since Davis’ loss. Obamacare has survived a Supreme Court ruling and a presidential race and has been declared “the law of the land.”
The law’s rollout, however, has been less than spectacular, fraught with website problems and consequences resulting in millions losing their current health insurance coverage. That includes an estimated 90,000 Alabamians who will have to find new health insurance policies because their current policies don’t meet the new requirements of Obamacare.
I caught up with the former Alabama congressman, now a resident of Fairfax County, Va., outside of Washington, D.C., last week to ask him if he viewed this as an “I told you so” moment.
Davis declined to say if he thought his opposition to Obamacare at the time had played a role in his primary loss in 2010, saying he is not one to analyze his political past.
“You know, I don’t spend a whole of time on anything in the past politically,” Davis said. “The one thing I always tell people I can guarantee you I will not get to do in my life is run the 2010 election over again. You know, I have no idea what else I will or won’t do, but I can pretty much guarantee you that is something I will not get to do is get in a time machine. So in terms of the past, I mean look — people can make their own judgment of what impacts they think that vote had in the Democratic primary.”
Davis has also since changed allegiances to the Republican Party and spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. In the meantime he has been flirting with another run for the U.S. House, but in Virginia.
As for Obamacare, he said he and some of his other Democratic colleagues saw all these problems coming at the time and said it wasn’t correct to call them “unforeseen.”
“I don’t actually see a lot of them as unforeseen consequences,” Davis explained. “I think in 2009 when the bill was being drafted, a number of Democratic members raised the basic question what’s going to happen to people who have existing insurance plans. And the response from advocates of the bill was, ‘Well those people will be able to keep their coverage’ but that never quite seemed to make sense. I recall looking back retrospectively that never seemed to quite make sense.”
Davis explained that at that time Democratic House leadership under then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been told of these potential pitfalls, but they chose to ignore them and proceed with passage of the Obamacare bill.
“Virtually every one of them was anticipated and discussed and ultimately ignored,” he said.
Locally, he said he foresaw the law as being problematic for his now former Alabama congressional district because he expected it to leave a lot of people without health insurance, as we are finding out today.
“I will note that in a district like the 7th district of Alabama, there’s still going to be a lot of low-income people who still aren’t going to be covered,” he continued. “They’re not going to be covered because the state elected to not opt for the Medicaid expansion. They’re not going to be covered because their companies have dropped coverage. They’re not going to be covered because they don’t qualify for the subsidies. There was always a pocket of people who were going to be in effect making too much money to qualify for Medicaid subsidies, even if their state accepted the Medicaid expansion. But yet they were going to be making enough money that they were not going to qualify for the federal subsidies.”
Davis said his solution would have been to expand Medicaid and have the federal government pick up 100 percent of the cost in the future, provide some tax credits to small business to get coverage and to not engage in the “large bureaucratic mousetrap” known as the Affordable Care Act.
What’s next for Artur Davis? He wouldn’t rule out getting back into politics, but explained that his low profile since the Republican convention last year was largely a product of the media’s decision to ignore him and explained he didn’t expect that to change unless he were to run again for office.