Today’s review and outlook in the Wall Street Journal adroitly sums, up the current efforts to protect people from the disastrous impact of Obamacare.
The Affordable Care Act appears to be misfiring in every imaginable way, and Democrats are having second thoughts about serving as human shields for White House ineptitude. If they really want to make amends, they’ll join Republicans in trying to repair some of the damage they caused.
The first act of penance is modest legislation the House will vote on Friday that would try to honor President Obama’s promise that people who liked their insurance could keep it. The one-page bill would allow insurers to continue offering for sale in 2014 the policies that ObamaCare terminated, exempting them from federal regulatory edicts.
They thus shut down the plans they were told to shut down and set new rates in expectation of the new rules and mandates—a complex process that takes months to plan, negotiate with doctors and hospitals and earn state approval. Reinstating plans, to the extent possible, would be difficult to price amid the insurance market convulsions ObamaCare is causing.
The Keep Your Plan Act is poorly titled. Nearly all 2013 plans cannot be renewed next year even in the absence of federal obstacles. Insurers obeyed the law, and unlike the feds they prepared competently for years for ObamaCare’s debut.
Still, insurance regulation was largely a state obligation before ObamaCare, and the GOP bill is a useful federalist housekeeping. Insurance commissioners in states with refugee crises in their individual markets could work with the companies they regulate to make a stopgap accommodation.
Given the lead times that insurance contracts require, Congress would need to act quickly. Every day of delay waiting on the website to work or another excuse makes a potential solution less likely before year-end.
The results are likely to be modest, but the bill could help some people, as well as prevent the millions of additional cancellations that will start to emerge over the coming year. House Republicans are obeying the axiom that Democrats read as a suggestion to do the opposite: First, do no harm.
Over in the Senate, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and fellow Democrats including a new cosponsor, Oregon liberal Jeff Merkley, aren’t changing their habits as they try to inoculate themselves from a midterm backlash in 2014. Their bill would order insurers to continue to offer the dumped plans that in many cases no longer exist. This is also a substantive due process violation for business and unconstitutional commandeering of state regulators.
The particular irony of this Democratic flight for the exits is that their bill would make ObamaCare even less viable. If people are allowed to choose a competitive insurance alternative, the exchanges are unlikely to survive financially. That’s why the White House is trying to stuff in as many people as possible, however unsuccessfully (see editorial below).
House Republicans have the better argument. There’s a substantive difference between letting people keep their plans through deregulation and through a new mandate that is supposed to counteract the damage from the old mandates. They should build on this insight and promote more ways for people to elude ObamaCare if they prefer.
To the extent Republicans can, at the state and federal level, they should try to revitalize and improve the old individual insurance market as one escape route. If Republicans want to get ambitious, they could even propose redistributing the government’s existing health-care subsidies instead of other people’s income. The tax benefit for employer-based insurance totals about $250 billion in foregone revenue a year, but individuals get no such subsidy.
Putting a cap on this open-ended benefit could fund universal tax credits for people of all ages, incomes and job situations to buy insurance outside of the ObamaCare exchanges. Four of five workers would do better than they do now.
Mr. Obama isn’t about to endanger his place in liberal history by agreeing to any of this, much less to save a Louisiana Senate seat, but then ObamaCare is unlike any previous entitlement. It passed with no GOP votes, so Democrats own it in toto and the rank and file are figuring out they are being volunteered as sacrifices.
Republicans have an opportunity to poach the health-care issue that liberals have dominated for decades. Amid the rollout debacle, the polls show Democratic credibility and trustworthiness are in free fall, and voters may be open to innovative market reforms. Health choices and incentives are no longer abstractions but tangible things consumers are losing.
Instead of a backward-looking promise to let Americans hold on to what they had, Republicans could offer the opportunity to buy a new plan that they like.