House Republicans are finally making a big admission: They like Obamacare!

The first explanation for why House Republicans weren't even trying to repeal most of the insurance regulation provisions in Obamacare — provisions that Republicans have been complaining for years are needlessly driving up insurance premiums — was that Senate rules would make it impossible to do so without Democratic votes.

The second explanation was that, while some provisions might be repealable with just Republican votes in the Senate, a partial regulatory repeal would cause unacceptable interactions with other Obamacare provisions that really did have to be left in place due to those Senate rules. (This is the "quirky death spiral" scenario I wrote about several weeks ago.)

The third explanation, offered once the White House and conservative Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus started talking about going ahead and trying to gut all the offending provisions, was that, well, the core Obamacare insurance rules are good policy and should be maintained, even if it is technically possible to repeal them.

RELATED: Protests for and against Obamacare

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Tea Party Patriots supporters hold signs protesting the Affordable Care Act in front of the Supreme Court as the court hears arguments on the health care reform bill on Tuesday, March 27, 2012.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Affordable Care Act supporters wave signs outside the Supreme Court after the court upheld court's Obamacare on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A man holds signs during a protest on the second day of oral arguments for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today is the second of three days the high court has set aside to hear six hours of arguments over the constitutionality President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sister Caroline attends a rally with other supporters of religious freedom to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, which operates a chain of arts-and-craft stores, challenged the provision and the high court ruled 5-4 that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

An Obamacare supporter counter protests a Tea Party rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the morning hours of March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court continued to hear oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Affordable Care Act supporters hold up signs outside the Supreme Court as they wait for the court's decision on Obamacare on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ron Kirby holds a sign while marching in protest of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court, which has set aside six hours over three days, will hear arguments over the constitutionality President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A protester waves his bible in the air as he overpowered by cheers from supporters of the Affordable Care Act as they celebrate the opinion for health care outside of the Supreme Court in Washington,Thursday June 25, 2015. The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide tax subsidies under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, in a ruling that preserves health insurance for millions of Americans.

(Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Nuns, who are opposed to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, and other supporters rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, a consolidated case brought by religious groups challenging a process for opting out of the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

(Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Supporters of contraception rally before Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23, 2016.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Protestors hold placards challenging 'Obamacare' outside of the US Supreme Court on March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court heard a second challenge to US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The US Supreme Court faces a momentous case Wednesday on the sweeping health insurance reform law that President Barack Obama wants to leave as part of his legacy. The question before the court is whether the seven million people or more who subscribed via the government's website can obtain tax subsidies that make the coverage affordable. A ruling is expected in June.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

 Linda Door (L) protests against President Obama's health care plan in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on March 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court, which has set aside six hours over three days, will hear arguments over the constitutionality President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act celebrate after the Supreme Court up held the law in the 6-3 vote at the Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, handing a major victory to the president.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

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This is a shocking admission from the party that staked its reputation on opposition to Obamacare, and it came on Wednesday.

Here's what Rep. Patrick McHenry, the chief deputy whip of the Republican conference, said about Obamacare's insurance regulations on Wednesday, by way of explaining why the House Freedom Caucus vision for a bill to deregulate health insurance couldn't pass:

"There are a lot of provisions that are part of the law now that I want to preserve. So if you look at a cross-section of the conference, they have similar positions about similar provisions — preexisting conditions, guarantee issue, and medical underwriting are core components of that ... the core provisions here are really important protections."

What McHenry was saying there sounds technical, but it can be summed up in a three-word sentence:

Obamacare is good.

McHenry is not just endorsing an incidental piece of Obamacare that can be kept while junking most of the law — in the way Republicans have for years by saying, for example, that they favor Obamacare's rule requiring insurance plans to cover the insureds' children up to age 26.

The portions of Obamacare that Rep. McHenry said he and the Republican conference want to preserve — the ban on preexisting condition exclusions, and provisions called "community rating" and "guaranteed issue," which I'll explain in a moment — cannot be preserved without keeping Obamacare's whole overall strategy: standardize insurance, require uniform pricing, subsidize premiums for those who cannot afford them, and find a way to get as many people as possible to buy.

Republicans are now endorsing enough of Obamacare that we can say they are for Obamacare. Period.

What McHenry is endorsing is the beating heart of Obamacare

McHenry said many in the Republican conference want to preserve Obamacare rules on three issues: "preexisting conditions, guarantee issue, and medical underwriting."

"Guaranteed issue" means that health insurers have to sell insurance to whoever wants it. Obamacare prohibits medical underwriting through a policy called "community rating." This rule says insurers have to charge all their customers the same price, regardless of medical status, except for limited adjustments based on age and smoking. The law also prohibits insurers from excluding preexisting conditions from coverage.

Put together, these policies ensure that insurance is available to all people at a predictable price — and when combined with the subsidies created by the law, it is ideally supposed to be an affordable price. These policies are very popular because they appeal to ideas about fairness — people should be able to get health insurance they can afford, and shouldn't be punished financially just because they are sick.

Republicans have a mandate to "repeal and replace Obamacare," but they don't have a mandate to make it possible for insurers to charge cancer patients a fortune (or decline to cover them altogether).

That said, these popular policies tend to cause some problems in insurance markets. If you're going to keep them, you also have to keep the parts of Obamacare that were built to address those problems.

And when you add all of those parts up, you basically have the entirety of Obamacare except for the Medicaid expansion.

You can't do what Republicans want without something like the individual mandate

Buyers of health insurance know quite a bit about their health status. Some expect to make few claims, while others know they will be expensive to cover. Some are even likely to know they will file claims that well exceed the premium they will be charged.

In other words, the regulations McHenry likes, because they flatten prices, will tend to make health insurance a lot more appealing to sick people than to healthy people. If that means mostly sick people buy health insurance, then premiums will have to be set very high to cover their expected costs, making insurance even more unappealing to healthy people.

To make this suite of policies work (community rating, guaranteed issue, preexisting-condition coverage) you need to find a way to get healthy people to buy health insurance, even though it is priced quite a bit higher than it would be if they were able to buy insurance underwritten to their excellent health.

You can do this by subsidizing health insurance (so the pricing is favorable even if you are healthy) or you can do it by penalizing people who do not buy health insurance. Obamacare does both: It gives subsidies that can only be used to buy insurance, and it assesses a penalty on people who go uninsured.

So, by committing to a set of core Obamacare policies, McHenry is also committing to a regime of subsidies to help people buy insurance, and to some mechanism to discourage going uninsured, even if he's not necessarily committing to Obamacare's precise set of subsidies and mandates.

You can't do what Republicans want without Obamacare's essential health benefits rules

One incarnation of the AHCA — a version for which McHenry was whipping votes just weeks ago — would have kept the rules he listed as important this week, but would have repealed rules about "essential health benefits," which say health insurance must cover certain benefits, such as hospitalization, maternity care, and prescription drugs.

Under this bill, insurers would have been able to sell plans that didn't cover substance-abuse treatment, or even plans that only covered one specific category of care, such as doctor's visits.

I explained at the time why this approach would create a huge mess:

"People in good health would tend to buy plans with relatively narrow benefits, and people in poor health would tend to buy plans with a lot more benefits.

"This fact would force insurers to price the broad plans much higher than the narrow plans. That would discourage healthy people from buying broad coverage, further shrinking the participant pool and pushing premiums even higher.

"Before Obamacare, insurers could mitigate this behavior by evaluating the health status of people who wanted to buy insurance and refusing to sell to people they thought would be expensive, or by refusing cover people for their preexisting conditions.

"But because the AHCA would preserve Obamacare's rules about guaranteed issue and its ban on preexisting-condition exclusions, insurers couldn't stop sick people from gravitating toward the most generous plans, and therefore causing the premiums for such plans to skyrocket.

"As a result, Dylan Scott of Stat News notes, some insurance markets could experience a death spiral that does not kill off all plans but that puts premiums for benefits that some people really care about (like hospitalization, prescriptions, or substance-abuse treatment) out of reach, forcing most people to buy plans that omit key benefits."

Squeamishness about this mess that would ensue if you repealed the EHB rules while leaving other rules in place was a major reason the AHCA could not pass — and is a reason the Freedom Caucus has been pushing to gut rules like community rating in conjunction with the EHB rules.

But if Republicans are committed to maintaining guaranteed issue and community rating, then by extension they also have to be committed to keeping the EHB rules unless they wish to cause the mess.

RELATED: The GOP's attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare

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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: Republican House members join U.S. President Donald Trump on stage as he speaks during a Rose Garden event May 4, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. The House has passed the American Health Care Act that will replace the Obama era� Affordable Healthcare Act with a vote of 217-213. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) (R) greets House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. President Donald Trump shares a moment with Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) during a Rose Garden event May 4, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. The House has passed the American Health Care Act that will replace the Obama era� Affordable Healthcare Act with a vote of 217-213. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) gestures as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wait for their turns to speak during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 4: Charlie Wood, 4, of Charlottesville, Va., plays with bubbles during rally on the East Front lawn of the Capitol to oppose the House Republicans' bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on May 4, 2017. She was born 3 1/2 months earlier and her mother Rebecca, at left, holding a picture of Charlie in the hospital, fears changes to the ACA will negatively effect her care. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House following the House of Representative vote on the health care bill on May 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. Following weeks of in-party feuding and mounting pressure from the White House, lawmakers voted 217 to 213 to pass a bill dismantling much of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and allowing US states to opt out of many of the law's key health benefit guarantees / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner listen to US President Donald Trump speak in the Rose Garden of the White House following the House of Representative vote on the health care bill on May 4, 2017 in Washington, D Following weeks of in-party feuding and mounting pressure from the White House, lawmakers voted 217 to 213 to pass a bill dismantling much of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and allowing US states to opt out of many of the law's key health benefit guarantees / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 9: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conducts a presentation in the House studio of the American Health Care Act, the GOP's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, March 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price compares a copy of the Affordable Care Act (R) and a copy of the new House Republican health care bill (L) during the White House daily press briefing March 7, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC. Secretary Price answered questions on the new healthcare bill during the briefing. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (L) and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney talk to reporters following the release of the Congressional Budget Office report on the proposed American Health Care Act outside the White House West Wing March 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. Price said 'We disagree strenuously' with the findings of the CBO report about the Republican's attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference about Congressional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (4th L) delivers remarks at the beginning of a meeting with representatives of conservative political organizations to discuss the American Health Care Act in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price led the meeting that included representatives from the Cato Institute, Tea Party Patriots, the American Conservative Union, Freedom Works, the American Legislative Exchange Council and other conservative groups. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: (L-R) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump greet House of Representatives committee leaders (L-R) House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-TN), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-WA) and Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) before a meeting to discuss the American Health Care Act in the Roosevelt Room at the White House March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The proposed legislation is the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about the American Health Care Act at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks about efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and the advancement of the American Health Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A copy of Obamacare repeal and replace recommendations (L) produced by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives sit next to a copy of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
(L-R) U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and U.S. Representative Greg Walden hold a news conference on the American Health Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
UNITED STATES - MARCH 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., attend a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to voice opposition to House Republican's health care plan, the American Health Care Act, March 14, 2017. The event featured testimony from patients and doctors who benefit from the Affordable Care Act. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 14: From left, Dr. Alice T. Chen, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Maggie Hassn, D-N.H., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attend a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to voice opposition to House Republican's health care plan, the American Health Care Act, March 14, 2017. The event featured testimony from patients and doctors who benefit from the Affordable Care Act. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference about Congressional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) (R) and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) (L) arrive for a news conference on the newly announced American Health Care Act at the U.S. Capitol March 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. House Republicans yesterday released details on their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, with a more conservative agenda that includes individual tax credits and grants for states replacing federal insurance subsidies. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) looks on as US Secretary of Health and Human Service Tom Price (R) points to a print-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a copy of the new plan introduced to repeal and replace the ACA during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC on March 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) (L) and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) (R) answer questions during a news conference on the newly announced American Health Care Act at the U.S. Capitol March 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. House Republicans yesterday released details on their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, with a more conservative agenda that includes individual tax credits and grants for states replacing federal insurance subsidies. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a Stop 'Trumpcare' rally May 4, 2017 in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats joined activists for a rally to urge not to replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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When you add this all together, you have Obamacare

According to McHenry, Republicans in the House of Representatives now think it's important to require health insurers to sell insurance to everyone. They think insurance shouldn't exclude preexisting conditions. And they think it should be sold at a fixed price, except for adjustments based on age and smoking.

If you do all that, you're going to have to take some steps to encourage healthy people to buy insurance, since premiums are going to be pretty high compared to the care they actually use, and since they're needed in the pool to cross-subsidize sick people.

You're going to need to hand out some subsidies, because those premiums are going to be unaffordable to a lot of people, especially if they have low incomes.

And you're going to have to set out rules ensuring that health insurance covers a comprehensive suite of benefits, as otherwise insurance markets will fall apart as only extremely stripped-down plans become viable.

All of which is to say, you're going to have to keep Obamacare.

Republicans are for Obamacare.

Now, can we talk about how to optimize Obamacare, instead of pretending that one party wants to repeal it?

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