The GOP isn’t killing Obamacare. The program is already dead.
Andy Slavitt will step down as the government official overseeing Obamacare on January 20. He should be charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Obamacare’s individual markets are a twisted wreckage. Insurers are fleeing them, consumers are shunning them, and Democrats are looking for someone to blame.
In addition to devolving regulatory authority to the states, federal policymakers should consider providing them with resources to reform markets and subsidize coverage. Instead of writing suffocating rules and enlisting the Internal Revenue Service to distribute subsidies and exact penalties, the federal government should set states free to innovate and hold them accountable for results.
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The worm is about to turn in health policy and politics when Republicans shift from throwing stones to owning the problems of the health system and the Affordable Care Act or its replacement, as President Barack Obama and Democrats have for the past eight years. It’s hard to predict how events will play out, but it’s likely that grand plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, convert Medicaid to a “block grant” program, and transform Medicare into a premium support program could be whittled down or delayed as details of such sweeping changes, and their consequences, become part of the debate.
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Incoming Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is now assisted, instead of annoyed, by the big, executive powers granted by Obamacare.
As Price takes the helm at HHS, he will succeed Obama appointees he had sharply criticized for taking wide latitude in implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Now that the tables have turned, and Republicans hold the White House, Price will have the ability to reverse, rewrite or do away with dozens of rules and guidance spelling out exactly how individuals, businesses, health providers, insurers and states should comply with the healthcare law’s many requirements.
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Republicans are pitching Obamacare “repeal and delay”—the idea of quickly repealing the ACA, but leaving it in place for three years as they craft a replacement. But one key health care expert threw cold water on that idea. Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, warned the strategy could send the market into “death throes.” He argues that to stabilize the insurance market and ensure that health insurers don’t flee is for the federal government to guarantee to cover their losses. But the politics of that aren’t easy because it would mean funding the three R’s— (risk adjustment, reinsurance, and risk corridors, all programs that subsidize insurance carriers that have significant losses.)
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Congressional Republicans are setting up their own, self-imposed deadline to make good on their vow to replace the Affordable Care Act. With buy-in from Donald Trump’s transition team, GOP leaders on both sides of the Capitol are coalescing around a plan to vote to repeal the law in early 2017 — but delay the effective date for that repeal for as long as three years.
“We’re talking about a three-year transition now that we actually have a president who’s likely to sign the repeal into the law. People are being, understandably cautious, to make sure nobody’s dropped through the cracks,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
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The new direction of American health care should be fully consumer driven, empowering individuals to be the surveyors and purchasers of their care. If President-elect Trump and Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s HHS pick, want to make the most of this short window, they should keep four central reforms in mind: 1) Provide a path to catastrophic health insurance for all Americans. 2) Accommodate people with pre-existing health conditions. 3) Allow broad access to health-savings accounts. 4) Deregulate the market for medical services.
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Price is of the view that we are going to end up subsidizing the health care of the poor and the indigent one way or the other. We can do it through cost shifting and subsidies conferred on impersonal hospital bureaucracies or we can give the money to the people and let the bureaucracies compete for their patronage. The Price tax credit would be refundable and it would vary by age. But unlike the Obamacare credits, Price’s credit would be the same, regardless of income.
That last feature is huge. The most important reason why the exchanges have been so dysfunctional is the need to verify income.
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Hospitals and health insurers are gaining confidence that their nightmare scenario – millions of Americans instantly losing health insurance once President-elect Donald Trump delivers on a promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare – is looking more like a bad dream than becoming reality.
The early view from the healthcare sector still includes an end eventually to President Obama’s signature health program.
But Trump’s picks to head the U.S. health department and its top regulator on Tuesday, along with his recent softening on some aspects of the existing law, is a sign to some sector insiders that instead of chaos, an orderly transition of up to three years to replace it with a plan that healthcare companies actually want could be in store.
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