INDIANAPOLIS -- BenefitsPRO Editor-in-Chief Paul Wilson joinedNicolle Wallace, a political analyst for MSNBC and top strategistfor the Republican Party, and Bakari Sellers, an up-and-comingDemocratic star and CNN pundit, in “Crossfire on Current Events andToday’s Divisive Political Landscape.”

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The keynote at the annual BenefitsPRO Broker Expo tackled everything fromthe Affordable Care Act, its perceived “death spiral,” fake news, and what to look forin 2020. (Hint: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Los AngelesMayor Eric Garcetti should start getting their teams together.)

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When asked what today’s political climate looks like for them,Sellers was quick to respond.

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“It’s a mess,” he said. “The White House has kept us in aperpetual state of confusion, and I’m not sure if that’sintentional or not.”

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“It’s never intentional,” Wallace responded, chuckles pepperingthroughout the room. “In this moment, it’s more painful for me,because my party stands for something very different now.”

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The two continued, discussing how we got here—with a presidentwho wasn’t supposed to win and has been anything but conventionalsince he took office earlier this year.

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“We are seeing some epic battles in Trump’s White House,” saidWallace. “He has this desire to dance with the ones who brunghim—Steven Bannon, Kellyanne Conway—but on the other side, he hasthese generals, like Mattis, who have helped some Trump skepticssleep at night.”

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These two forces—the Trump aides who have caught flak for theirPR woes and lack of experience and the more seasoned experts andadvisors—are pitted against each other and as Wallace pointed out,Trump will have to decide who will ultimately and truly guide histenure on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Democrats as the opposition party

“This seems unprecedented,” said Wilson. “It’s not just afeeling, it actually is,” said Sellers. He continued, saying neverhas there been a more inexperienced president. (That didn’t sitwell with some audience members, who audibly disagreed.)

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But Sellers went on, telling the audience Democrats are in asituation they haven’t been in for eight years—taking on the roleof the opposition party. It’s not something they know how to dovery well right now, he said, and they need to figure out whattheir future looks like in this regard.

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“There is a lot of chaos, but a lot of that can be calmed downif you have a lead in the Republican Party like Paul Ryan who stepsforward and leads,” he said.

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To a certain degree, Wallace agreed, but with a simple, yetcrucial, caveat.

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“Paul Ryan was prepared and knew how to do his job under HillaryClinton, but he wasn’t prepared for this,” she said. “He has noidea how to be Paul Ryan in a Trump administration. He willultimately pay the price for the Republicans in the midterms overthe health care debacle.”

Paul Ryan’s defeat

And how much did the American Health Care Act failure hurtTrump? Not much at all, actually. Wallace said Trump won’t have topay a political price, because his supporters weren’t necessarilythat offended by the ongoing health care debate, but Ryan’ssupporters won’t be as forgiving.

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“It’s the more conservative ideological ones that make up PaulRyan’s base, and they are going to be angry they blew their chanceto repeal Obamacare,” she added.

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It seems that anger will reverberate for some time, consideringRyan’s recent admission that the ACA is the law of the land andwill be for the foreseeable future. Or will it? Trump says repealis still on the table.

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“The White House OMB director was talking about how ACA repealwill be done before tax reform, but I think that’s aspirational,”Wallace said. “There is just not enough will for this among Trump’sbase.”

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So, despite Trump’s tweets, the ACA seems to be in place for thetime being, and many Americans are starting to give the health carelaw more love than it had in the years it wasn’t on the choppingblock.

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“I will give credit to Trump for that,” Sellers said. “He madethe ACA popular, which Obama couldn’t do. The AHCA only had anapproval of 17 percent. That’s lower than the ACA ever was.”

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“It’s hard for your first piece of legislation to take somethingaway from people,” he continued. “Obama failed to communicate theACA accomplishments, and you can see that now. I do think the ACAwill be the law of the land because of insurance reimbursements forthe 7 million people covered out-of-pocket by those insurers. Obamaattempted to do that, but the Republicans said no way. Now they aresaying it will be done.”

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Spending political capital

With the missed opportunity that is repeal and replace, it’stime to face facts: The unpopular branding of the ACA made it hardto swallow for many Americans, but without something solid andsellable, Trump and his cohorts will most likely have to face apackage of tweaks.

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“If anyone tells you the ACA doesn’t need to be fixed, they arelying to you and themselves,” Sellers said.

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Later in the keynote, an audience member wondered how muchpolitical capital Ryan expended on his now-defunct attempt athealth care reform, and if he’d try to take on another endeavorsoon, like Social Security.

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“I think his bank of political capital is a lot lighter,”Wallace said.

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“It’s probably in overdraft,” Sellers chimed in.

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“But I don’t think he has a partner to help him do anything inSocial Security,” Wallace said. “It’s not Trump’s impulse to takethings away. I think he thinks he can make the pie bigger, becauseI don’t really think he wants reform.”

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Had someone like Jeb Bush or even Hillary Clinton taken theWhite House, both Wallace and Sellers agreed, reforms would be onthe docket. But as Sellers put it, “Paul Ryan is in the wrong era.He’s too wonky.”

Health insurance vs. health care costs

Another question from the audience (posed by former Broker of the Year winner David Contorno)brought up the question on many brokers’ minds. “Health insuranceis expensive because health care is expensive. Why have both sidesof the aisle been afraid to talk about it?”

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“That was the goal of the ACA, and it missed the mark,” Sellerssaid simply. “Not enough people get it,” said Wallace.

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It was then Sellers pushed back on the original question,saying, “I think your premise is wrong. I don’t think cost is theproblem; access remains the No. 1 problem.” It was then theall-too-familiar point was made by the audience: “Part of access isaffordability.”

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That argument has been—and should be—made often. For Wallace,she says not enough people in the government know how to have thisconversation, with one exception.

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“Governors are more fluent because they live it,” she said.“[John] Kasich made one of the more impassioned pleas to thepresident to slow down on health care.”

The death spiral

Another audience member brought up the so-called death spiralthe ACA seems to be succumbing to. “What does the ACA collapsemean, and could it actually happen?” he asked.

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“The Aetna CEO is the one who said Obamacare was in a deathspiral, and he said it when the government didn’t back his merger,”Sellers said.

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(It should be mentioned Mark Bertollini denies the two arelinked, but recently, Aetna did remove itself from an Iowa ACAmarketplace for individual plans, the second major insurer to doso.)

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Sellers disagreed the ACA is in a death spiral and said whatwill help stabilize it will be the subsidies to insurance companiesthat will act as reinforcement to keep them on board. “I think itwill be stable,” he said.

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Wallace agreed somewhat. “I think it will be bloated, but whenit gets close to dying, they will fix it, but not until then.”

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“It’s not how we repeal it,” Sellers said. “It’s how we fixit.”

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