In the early ’60s, I was a struggling taxi-squad player on the University of Texas football team. Like many of my teammates, I hoped the coaching staff would notice me. Playing defensive back in one scrimmage, I went for a fake in the middle of the line only to allow a receiver to streak by me and catch a touchdown pass. The coach’s response: “Hupfeld, that was a real bonehead play.”

Many years later I had an opportunity to level the same charge of a bonehead play in how the Republicans handled the whole issue of health care — particularly pre-existing conditions — in the congressional mid-term elections.

Obamacare’s pre-existing coverage has undeniable appeal

You may recall that but a few short months ago the Republicans had the wind at their backs because of the high premiums and unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The mantra was to repeal that act and replace it with something far superior. What they missed and thoroughly misunderstood, of course, was the popularity of the Obamacare requirement for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. The Republicans then had to scramble to assure the public that while they were against the ACA, nevertheless, they supported coverage of pre-existing conditions.

(A note of explanation here: There is no way that the idea of pre-existing conditions works mathematically in the typical insurance concept. It is similar to asking your insurance agent for fire insurance as your house is burning. There is no way to cover known losses. Still, the idea that any of us could have our insurance cancelled when we change jobs because we have a serious disease is a reasonable fear that many Americans share.)

As the Republicans pressed forward in Congress to revoke Obamacare, their promise was to replace it with something even better. Unfortunately, they did not have a clue as to what that actually meant. As they scrambled to assure the public they were really not against covering pre-existing conditions, the damage had already been done.

Democrats bludgeon Republicans on issue

So, the worst case of all prevailed. The GOP failed to get the necessary votes to repeal Obamacare and were stuck with their previous announcements condemning the ACA, which, in the minds of many Americans, predominantly featured mandates for pre-existing coverage. When asked what they would replace the ACA with, GOP leaders were left muttering worn-out catch phrases about a market-driven program that allowed insurance policies to be sold across state lines. While interstate policies are not necessarily a bad idea when compared to popular provisions such as pre-existing conditions coverage, the argument is totally lost on the public. Republicans succeeded in giving the Democrats the hammer to bludgeon them with the concept they were against health care and, more specifically, covering individuals in their most dire time of need.

The Democrats used this cudgel very successfully and, as a result, reclaimed the majority in the House of Representatives.

So, I say to my Republican friends the same as the Texas coaches said to me those many years ago on the practice fields at UT: “That was a real bonehead play!”