Although President Obama likes to pretend there are no Republican alternatives to ObamaCare, it’s not true, and never has been. (For some reason, Republican leaders can never seem to get away with simply denying that Democrat alternatives to their proposals exist.) Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who is a medical doctor, appeared on Fox News Thursday night to discuss his Empowering Patients First Act, which he describes as a “patient-centered” alternative to the disastrous Affordable Care Act:
The former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, scored the Price proposal on behalf of the American Action Forum, and found that it would save over $2 trillion over the next ten years, while increasing insurance coverage without over-reliance on Medicaid, and bringing insurance premiums down considerably for average individual and family policies.
Price’s plan has some features conceptually similar to ObamaCare, including means-tested tax credits for the purchase of insurance, and guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions. The fundamental difference is Price’s emphasis on getting Washington out of the way, eliminating the vast layers of bureaucracy and centralized power in favor of incentives that would encourage private insurance to accomplish the desired goals.
It’s hard to avoid noticing that ObamaCare seems to be working out that way anyway, as all the Big Government central planning stuff collapses in a fiery ruin of incompetence and wasted taxpayer dollars, leaving a hapless federal bureaucracy to scream for help from the private sector, time and again. “There aren’t any mandates in here,” said Rep. Price. “What we do is make it financially feasible and attractive… under our provision, every single American would be better off financially if they got covered. Americans will make the right decision.” That beats having an expensive, unworkable law stuffed full of mandates that President Obama keeps suspending by decree, as his poll numbers plummet.
For example, Rep. Price’s plan uses tax credits to entice people out of calcified government-run programs like Medicaid, and into the private insurance market. He considers this largely a matter of extending the same kind of tax preferences to individual consumers that employers already enjoy when they purchase health benefits. Damage to the Treasury from these credits would be greatly mitigated by reducing the overall cost of insurance and medical services. By contrast, there is fiscal terror to be found in ObamaCare’s combination of tax subsidies and measures designed to make insurance fantastically expensive. The “young invincibles” are repulsed by the high out-of-pocket costs ObamaCare imposes on them, but it’s even worse than that, because their sky-high premiums are also a Keystone XL pipeline of cash from the Treasury to the insurance industry.
Price makes his less subsidy-saturated plan work for insurance companies by implementing the common sense reforms that were inconceivable to a Democrat Party wholly owned by trial lawyers, and hopelessly in thrall to the vision of centralized government control: medical malpractice reform, reducing the cost of “defensive medicine,” health insurance owned by individuals instead of their employers, and allowing insurance companies to do business across state lines.
Those are the reforms we should have implemented in the first place, and Price thinks it’s not too late to give them a try. As he puckishly noted during his Fox News appearance, we’re all getting a rather vivid education in what not to do right now. Contrary to President Obama’s false claims that there aren’t any GOP alternative plans, Price thinks there might be too many, and he’s making a bid to get Republicans on board with his plan as the official party proposal. It is sometimes suggested that Republicans should stay out of the way for a while longer while ObamaCare implodes, rather than putting their own plan on the table to attract criticism. That might be less of a danger with the Empowering Patients First Act, since it lays out so many of the same goals as ObamaCare, but addresses them through individual choice and market competition instead of top-down bureaucratic control. Defenders of top-down control find themselves faced with tough sledding through frigid mountains of public anger at the moment.
Price makes an interesting point about the great “pre-existing conditions” controversy: it’s mostly consumers in the small-group and individual markets who worry about failing to obtain coverage, and in the larger employer-provided insurance market, the threat of losing coverage due to an existing condition is most acute when changing jobs. Moving to a patient-ownership model and allowing the individual market to pool together, giving them big-league purchasing power, goes a long way toward addressing those concerns without any trans-Constitutional tax/penalty/whatever mandates.
Relying less heavily on government mandates also relieves the tension between overweening State power and individual conscience – a conflict arrogantly dismissed by the architects of ObamaCare, but which may yet prove the undoing of the entire Affordable Care Act, as First Amendment suits from employers such as Hobby Lobby reach the Supreme Court.
Toward the end of the Fox News piece, Price takes a question from Twitter about how to go about restoring coverage to the five million victims of Obama’s Big Lie. He’s upfront and honest about conceding there’s no good answer to that question, given the short time frame available to deal with the mess ObamaCare has created. But in keeping with the spirit of his proposed legislation, I’ll repeat a prediction I’ve made before: give private insurance companies a shot at getting coverage for those folks on a for-profit bases, without the dead hand of Big Government on their shoulders, and they’ll make it happen faster than any of the people responsible for Healthcare.gov. Five million previously satisfied customers who suddenly need insurance is a political crisis for Obama, but it’s an opportunity for capitalists. The latter mode of thought is much more likely to produce real, sustainable results ASAP than the former. But then, some of us didn’t need an agonizing trillion-dollar catastrophe to figure that out.