It takes a journalist to clear the fog about Republican health policy alternatives. (Yes, they do have alternative plans.) In his new book, Overcoming ObamaCare, Philip Klein, who is the commentary editor of the Washington Examiner, presents a timely and accessible review of the three primary approaches that Republican officials and policy analysts are offering.
Klein acknowledges that Republicans failed to implement serious health reforms when they had control of the White House and of Congress during the George W. Bush administration, and the nation paid dearly when Democrats jammed their still-unpopular health law through when they had control of both branches of government in 2010.
He implicitly warns that if Republicans don’t come up with an alternative to ObamaCare, we could be saddled with ObamaCare’s “government takeover of health care” for good.
“During their time in the wilderness [after HillaryCare], smart liberals took lessons from their Clinton era defeat and refined their health care strategy in preparation for their next opening,” he writes. The book makes it clear that now is the time for conservatives to get to work coalescing around a plan.
Overcoming ObamaCare is a solid primer on conservative policy alternatives – a very useful tool especially for the army of conservatives elected to office in November who are intent on repealing, and in some cases replacing, ObamaCare.
Klein is a good student of conservative health policy, acknowledging “there’s one prominent area in which the U.S. does not have anything approaching a functioning consumer market, and where instead, the consumer is completely left in the dark, given few choices, elbowed out of the decision-making process by large bureaucracies, and given very little incentive to seek out the best deal. Unfortunately, this area accounts for $2.9 trillion in spending, representing more than one-sixth of the U.S. economy. I am, of course, referring to health care.”
As a former journalist, I am biased toward his clear, straightforward approach and his birds-eye reporting of the policy debate as it has unfolded in the political and policy realms.
Klein compares and contrasts the various reform plans and explains the three schools of thought and the philosophies driving them:
Reform. The margins aren’t always as clear as the categories would imply, but he places me in the reform school, saying I favor “a step-by-step approach to undoing ObamaCare.”
I am as opposed as anyone to this law (co-authoring Why ObamaCare Is Wrong for America in 2011), but five years out, reality has taken over. So far, Congress has passed and the president has signed 17 major changes to the law, including repeal of the 1099 reporting provision for small business, the CLASS Act long-term care Ponzi scheme, and blocking funding for the financially-troubled non-profit co-op health plans. Many more are teed up.
Thousands of legislators, millions of companies and tens of millions of Americans have had to make changes in their health care arrangements to comply with federal law. That means our health sector has been changed irreversibly by ObamaCare. We can no longer go back to the system we had before the law passed any more than we can go back to the 1990s. Most of the policies that people had before don’t exist. Many of the doctors that were in the networks their health plans before have retired or have sold their practices to hospitals. Hospitals have merged, and all providers have built new business models to comply with the law. State approval of previous health insurance plans has expired, and the plans can no longer legally be sold because they don’t comply with ObamaCare.
Americans “don’t want a big gigantic replacement plan. That scares them,” he quotes me as saying.
Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute agrees. “His overarching idea is for Republicans to perform what he’s referred to as a ‘jiu-jitsu’ maneuver. In short, he has proposed that Republicans reform Obamacare to make it more market friendly and then use that modified structure to achieve broader reforms to the nation’s older health care entitlements.” He provides a detailed explanation of the reform plan Avik has offered, “Transcending Obamacare.”
Replace. Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Yuval Levin, also of EPPC and editor of National Affairs, are quoted extensively here. “You’re going to have to do replace with repeal,” Capretta says. “You can’t displace this incumbent program without a replace program, in my judgment.”
Jeff Anderson, executive director of the 2017 Project, says the law isn’t “remotely fixable.” Ditto, Budget Chairman Tom Price with his “Empowering Patients First Act.”
He also provides a Cliff’s Notes overview of one of the replace proposals that has received significant attention: The Coburn-Burr-Hatch proposal by the three leading U.S. Senators.
But even some in this “replace” school implicitly agree that reform must evolve from the changed landscape of ObamaCare.
Restart. Finally, he talks about the Restart school, starting with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s reform proposal and his criticisms of those who would propose “ObamaCare Lite.” Cato’s Michael Cannon also is in this school, with his “Large HSA” proposal.
Klein takes a deep dive in each of these chapters into the tax treatment of health insurance – which is at the heart of conservative health reform. Conservatives have long supported providing financial assistance to the uninsured, especially those who are not offered or cannot afford employer-based health insurance but who make too much to qualify for public programs, especially Medicaid.
But the debate continues on the right about how to structure those subsidies – through tax credits, refundable tax credit, or tax deductions — with many variations in different plans. Klein portrays the vigorous debate that takes place in the policy community including, for example, an intense discussion with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (a tax deduction supporter) and policy experts Klein attended in April of 2014.
Klein doesn’t take sides. But he acknowledges, in his conclusion, “Republican control of the Senate and a spirited GOP presidential nomination contest should provide a great opportunity to debate many of the ideas explored in this book.”
And then we warns: “Those who aren’t happy about the direction of American health care need to start the process of coalescing around an alternative approach. If they can do that, there’s a chance to overcome ObamaCare and move toward a health care system that puts the consumer first.”
One final plug: I am biased in thinking that we must move to a new system that puts consumers in charge of their health care decisions and that we must seize opportunities to begin that process. The pending Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell provides opportunities to make such changes: If the High Court were to decide that the IRS acted illegally in providing subsidies through federal health care exchanges, Congress and 36 governors are highly unlikely to sit back and watch as five million people lose their health insurance coverage. Congress already is working on plans to use the possible opportunity of a win in the courts to give citizens new options that could lead to the transformative change that underpins each of the conservative philosophies.