Republicans, Stop Avoiding Obamacare’s Problems And Start Fixing Them

Republicans, Stop Avoiding Obamacare’s Problems And Start Fixing Them

Republicans seem insistent on doing anything but solving the ultimate problem with Obamacare: strangling states’ and individuals' power to manage their own health care.
Christopher Jacobs
By

With Congress having barely staved off attempts at a massive bailout of health insurers and Obamacare, the obvious question in health policy becomes: What should Congress do now?

Unfortunately, Republicans seem insistent on doing anything but solving the ultimate problem. As I have written on more occasions than I care to count, Obamacare’s regulatory scheme—particularly its requirements for pre-existing conditions—explain why premiums more than doubled from 2013 to 2017. That onerous regime necessitated requiring individuals to purchase, and employers to offer, health coverage; subsidies to make the (newly expensive) coverage more “affordable”; and tax increases and Medicare reductions to fund the subsidies.

Over the last several months, Republicans proposed throwing money—your money and mine, of course—at the problem, through various “stability” bills. Rather than lowering premiums by repealing the regulations that raised them in the first place, the bailout approach would merely salve the pain, by raising subsidies for insurers. But, like the proverbial morphine drip this strategy resembles, “stability” bills will only moderate premium increases as long as the taxpayer spigots remain wide open—and sooner or later, the government will run out of other people’s money.

One other option discussed of late would avoid addressing the problem entirely, by codifying the Trump administration’s proposed changes to short-term health plans. On one hand, this approach would provide a benefit, as short-term plans remain exempt from all the new requirements Obamacare imposes.

But the health care law’s regulatory regime created not one, but two, related problems. First, it raised premiums for most forms of insurance. But just as importantly, it did so via a massive federal intrusion into a realm—health insurance—where states had virtual free rein for nearly seven decades. Following passage of the McCarran-Ferguson Act in 1947, the federal government exercised minimal control of states’ individual health insurance markets, until Obamacare.

To see the effects of Obamacare on state markets, take the case of Idaho. The state wants to permit the sale of insurance plans that meet some, but not all, of the law’s regulatory requirements. But unfortunately, because the federal statute supersedes a state’s wishes, the Trump administration recently told Idaho it cannot offer policies that do not comply with federal law.

I noted last month that Idaho could take some solace in the sale of short-term plans, which are both permitted under federal law and exempt from the Obamacare regime, and focus on that policy avenue. However, the state finds that option insufficient, and understandably so. As I previously noted, I agree with Idaho’s coverage proposal as a matter of policy, even if I disagree that it has the legal authority to implement it at present.

However, the idea that a Republican Congress would codify the rules on short-term plans, while keeping in place the onerous federally imposed regime that micro-manages all 50 states’ health insurance markets, defies any commitment to the principles of federalism. At least one state has publicly called short-term plans an insufficient option for its residents. Others very likely agree. If they believe in federalism, why would lawmakers in Washington purposefully deny Idahoans the freedom to make their own choices?

Last month’s White House budget claimed the Graham-Cassidy health care legislation would “support states as they transition to more sustainable health care programs that provide appropriate choices for their citizens.” But a bill keeping Obamacare’s regulatory regime in place, while allowing short-term plans as a “lifeboat” for those who wish it, would do the exact opposite. Such legislation might give freedom to some individuals, but it would not give any freedom to states to manage their own health insurance markets as they see fit, or to “provide appropriate choices for their citizens.”

I wrote last April that Republicans faced a binary choice: They could keep the status quo on pre-existing conditions, or they could repeal Obamacare—but they cannot do both. Instead of throwing money at the problem, or using political dodges like short-term plans to avoid it, they should get about actually fixing the underlying problem. Or come clean with the American people, and admit that they never wanted to repeal Obamacare in the first place.

Mr. Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm based in Washington. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.

Copyright © 2018 The Federalist, a wholly independent division of FDRLST Media, All Rights Reserved.