For years, Republicans have debated if it was enough to simply attack President Obama’s signature health care law and seek its repeal or advance a detailed alternative to Obamacare that would benefit policyholders and the economy.
In a speech kicking off a two-day Heritage Foundation policy summit, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) – the new chair of the House Budget Committee – said the GOP must finally spell out a new, more conservative approach if the High Court rules the federal insurance exchanges have been giving subsidies to people in defiance of the law.
The court has agreed to review King v. Burwell, which challenges the legality of subsidies granted to people who purchase coverage on insurance exchanges created by the federal government. The plaintiffs contend that, under the law, only those who buy policies on the 17 exchanges operated by state governments and D.C. may receive subsidies. The administration insists it was always Congress’ intent to provide subsidies to anyone who meets the income eligibility requirements, whether they purchase insurance on a state or federal exchange.
If the court rules against the Obama administration this spring, as many experts warn is possible, then “this unravels Obamacare pretty doggone quickly – and that’s a good thing,” Price told his conservative audience.
Such a ruling would immediately question the legality of millions of subsidized health insurance policies that were sold on the 33 federally operated insurance exchanges.
“But it’s not a good thing to not have any replacement, to have any solution ready and available for Congress to act upon,” Price said. “So I’m excited about the opportunity of being able to put forward patient-centered, positive solutions, and I hope we will be able to do so.”
Price, an orthopedic surgeon by training and one of the most conservative lawmakers, has taken the reins of the Budget Committee from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Price’s hardline views on the need for long-term deficit and debt reduction, entitlement reform and an overhaul of costly government red tape meshes nicely, for the most part, with the views of GOP leaders. Yet Price has been a lonely voice in the wilderness for the past five years in calling for a replacement for Obamacare.
Since 2009 he’s has introduced a comprehensive alternative health care plan at least three times. It was originally presented as the Obamacare alternative from the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), which Price headed at the time. The 250-page bill, known as the Empowering Patients First Act, has attracted several dozen co-sponsors over the years, including some who have been at odds with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) over his leadership style.
The bill is premised on providing affordable coverage through a series of tax credits and deductions. These would lure people into the insurance market with positive incentives, as opposed to Obamacare’s individual and employer mandate approach that fines those who don’t buy health insurance and punishes many employers who fail to offer coverage to employees. Price has described his approach as “a carrot instead of a two-by-four.”
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Price’s approach would also let people drop out of Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health care benefit programs in favor of receiving a tax credit. Also, an individual’s health coverage would be “portable” – meaning people could take it with them from job to job.
Moreover, individuals and small businesses would be able to access insurance pools that reduce risk for those with pre-existing conditions, and they could purchase plans across state lines.
Price on Monday mounted yet another GOP assault on Obamacare, saying that Obamacare not only harms the quality of health care but the economy, too. “It’s doing so not just for medical practices, not just for physicians and hospitals who are trying to care for patients,” he said, “but for businesses small and large who of their own volition want to be able to provide health coverage for their employees and are finding it much more difficult.”
His plan has six principles: affordability, accessibility, quality, responsiveness, innovation, and choice.
Despite repeated criticisms, Obamacare is succeeding in one of its primary goals: to increase Americans’ access to health coverage. The uninsured rate for the final quarter of 2014 dropped to its lowest level in recent history, 12.9 percent, Gallup reported last week. It also said the uninsured rate dropped 4.2 percentage points since the individual mandate requiring people to have insurance or pay a penalty kicked in last year.
As of December 26, about 6.5 million Americans had selected new plans or were automatically re-enrolled via HealthCare.gov; data on paid premiums is not yet known. The White House expects at least nine million people to sign up for coverage this year, though Avalere and others expect that number to be even higher.
The Fiscal Times’ Brianna Ehley contributed to this report.
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