EDITORIAL: Obamacare meltdown means Reid must consider GOP ideas

President Barack Obama is in dire need of political cover. Obamacare is a disaster, and the public isn’t buying overpriced health insurance, much less the president’s promise to address the law’s failures. His Thursday directive to insurance companies to allow millions of Americans to keep their canceled health coverage for one more year is as likely to work as the healthcare.gov exchange.

So Obamacare supporters, desperate to deflect increasing attacks, are doubling down on an old meme: “Well, where is the Republican replacement plan?” The talking point says the GOP has no plan, and never had a plan to reduce the growth of health care costs and increase the number of insured.

Forget for a moment that even if Republicans had succeeded in blocking the passage of Obamacare and done nothing else, at least 5 million Americans today would be able to keep the policies and doctors they liked (to say nothing of the price). But Republicans have proffered viable reforms for a health care industry that badly needs them. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has led that cause, putting forth a comprehensive alternative health care plan three times since 2009, including this past June.

Rep. Price’s plan is lacking in paper weight — it’s 250 pages, compared with the more than 2,000 pages of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands more pages of regulations — but it’s heavy on ideas that would make health insurance and medical care more affordable. As reported by National Review’s Andrew Stiles in August, the bill aims to provide affordable coverage for all (not just an approved voting bloc) through a series of tax credits and deductions designed to attract individuals into the insurance market with incentives. Obamacare’s solution: Buy this, or the government will fine you.

For example, Mr. Stiles reports, Rep. Price’s plan would allow individuals to opt out — not be forced out — of Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care programs and instead receive tax credits to put toward the health care options of their choice. And the coverage would be portable, no longer tied to one’s employment, so losing a job wouldn’t mean losing insurance. Meanwhile, those who purchase coverage on the individual market (a segment hammered by Obamacare), along with small businesses, could access insurance pools that reduce risk for those with pre-existing conditions, and they could purchase plans across state lines.

In contrast, Obamacare exchange plans differ in every state. If you purchase through healthcare.gov (which will be humming along beautifully come Nov. 30, right?) or via a state-run exchange, and you move to another state, you can’t take your plan with you. You would need to purchase a plan in your new network. And, of course, many people purchasing or considering Obamacare plans face huge increases in premiums, deductibles and co-pays — or the aforementioned penalty tax.

Rep. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, said of his plan: “It’s a carrot instead of a two-by-four. Regardless of where one fits in the economic spectrum, there is a financial incentive to purchase health coverage that the individual wants, not that the government forces them to buy.”

If you like your plan, you can keep it. What a concept.

Obamacare supporters relentlessly criticize the 40-plus votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to repeal Obamacare. But those critics conveniently fail to mention that some proposals within those votes actually won Senate approval and later were signed by the president. Forbes.com contributor Grace-Marie Turner wrote Friday that, since the president signed the law in March 2010, Congress has approved 15 significant changes, including a full repeal of the unsustainable long-term care program, which North Dakota’s Kent Conrad, Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee, dubbed a “Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing Bernie Madoff would be proud of.”

Speaking of schemes, Ms. Turner noted the president has made at least 10 significant changes by administrative fiat.

Today there is bipartisan support to ax Obamacare’s medical device tax, which is killing American jobs, research and innovation. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., won’t bring the tax repeal proposal up for a vote. And there is Republican support for covering those with pre-existing conditions. Obamacare addresses pre-existing conditions in a way that doesn’t give insurers the means to make long-term costs pencil out. Instead, everybody gets to pay more, particularly the young and those in perfect health. Insurance should be based on risk, with routine care paid for out of pocket, and insurance providers paying for unexpected costs.

The government already subsidizes health care for the poor through Medicaid. If there’s a segment of the population that needs insurance subsidies most, it’s those with debilitating diseases. Creating another entitlement — one that purports to help the middle class, but actually penalizes it with a subsidy eligibility “cliff” that discourages higher earnings — is an incredibly inefficient use of government resources.

We’ve never liked using the tax code to influence behavior. And we don’t think Republicans have all the answers. But Republicans were shut out of the Obamacare debate. We’ll take tax incentives over tax penalties every day of the week.

Sen. Reid crafted this law and guided it through Congress. Disinformation can’t create cover for the political failure that is Obamacare. Better ideas are out there. It’s time for Sen. Reid to accept these ideas, stop carrying the president’s water, and actually do something to help the American people.

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