There were plenty of reasons to think the individual mandate was here to stay. It was a linchpin of Republicans' failed effort to defeat the Affordable Care Act in 2010. They couldn't persuade the Supreme Court to strike it down in 2012, or muster enough votes in that year's elections to do it themselves. They failed to repeal it once again in July. This July. Not even five months ago. And yet, here we are.
As important as the passage of Republicans' tax overhaul is for tax policy, and for President Trump's legislative agenda and Paul Ryan's legacy and everything else, this is at least as big a moment in the life of the ACA. After years upon years of dire warnings about what would happen to the ACA without an individual mandate, we're about to find out in a live experiment.
The new tax bill eliminates the individual mandate, a key pillar of the ACA. Trump's White House is pursuing new regulations that could undermine Obamacare plans with cut-rate alternatives. Some states are struggling to attract insurers, a problem that's carried over from the Obama era. Republicans are still debating whether to give the ACA a bipartisan tune-up or purposefully "let Obamacare fail," as the president has put it. And nobody is sure what surprises the year might bring.