Republicans won big in 2014 and 2016 on the message of repealing Obamacare. Nearly three years after the 2016 election, Obamacare is still here and Republicans effectively have given up trying to replace it.
The GOP pushed a terrible plan in 2017 that, predictably, went down in flames. Some Republicans want to repeat failure with another dubious healthcare initiative. This time, it doesn’t even get rid of Obamacare. Instead, the new proposal would make things worse.
Republicans should have learned to leave healthcare alone unless they can come up with a serious alternative. Their healthcare plan in 2017 alienated the public, and they may do the same again with this new plan.
Establishment Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is behind the new legislation, called the Lower Health Care Costs (LHCC) Act. It aims to tackle surprise medical bills, a major concern for ordinary Americans. This is something that President Trump has wanted to address. “We’re determined to end surprise medical billing for American patients,” Trump said in May. However well-meaning Alexander’s plan may be, it likely will not end surprise medical billing. But it is likely to make your healthcare experience worse.
LHCC’s grand solution to surprise medical bills is fixed pricing. This is an odd proposal for a party supposedly committed to free-market principles. But it’s not so odd when you consider who supports fixed pricing: the insurance companies. This is no populist breakaway from stale GOP ideas—it represents the establishment’s subservience to crony capitalism.
“We agree and strongly believe that federal legislation is needed to protect patients from surprise medical bills,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said in its endorsement of LHCC.
Insurance companies benefit from fixed pricing because it allows them to remove higher-priced doctors, services, and hospitals from their networks. This move allows insurers to maintain low median prices for out-of-network emergency services. If a higher-priced service is out-of-network, insurance companies would only have to pay that low median price for their services. In other words, fixed pricing means insurance companies will cover fewer services and reduce their own costs for reimbursement of medical bills.
This would exacerbate one of Obamacare’s main problems: patients losing their doctors. Barack Obama infamously lied to Americans that they would be able to keep their health plans and doctors under his healthcare law. Many Americans, in fact, lost their plans and doctors. Republicans honed in on this to show the terrible effects of Obamacare—and Americans responded by voting Republican.
A Boon to Insurers
But the LHCC would also lead to many Americans losing their plans and doctors—all so insurance companies won’t have to pay so much.
Republican ideas for healthcare reform in 2017 were similarly designed primarily to benefit insurance companies. The GOP plans would have given massive tax cuts to insurers in the hopes that they would reduce costs. The plan most championed by Trump and the Republicans would have given endless bailouts to insurance companies as well.
Nobody seemed to want this plan to go through except for Republican lawmakers and a few insurance companies. The plan polled horribly among the American public, with only 12 percent of Americans supporting the GOP’s healthcare bill. These poorly conceived plans likely helped the Democrats in 2018 election. More voters said they trusted the Democrats—who gave us the disastrous Obamacare—than Republicans on this issue. That’s because Republicans could only offer a slightly better version of Obamacare.
Voters want a bold healthcare plan that won’t empower out-of-touch bureaucrats and enrich insurance execs. They want a plan that will make their healthcare more affordable and convenient. The LHCC, which will allow bureaucrats to determine pricing and reduces consumer choice, will do none of that.
Republicans are in a better position to warn about the dangers of the Democrats’ socialized medicine than to offer the Diet Coke equivalent of such measures. Polling shows that Americans strongly oppose single-payer when they are informed it would lead to higher taxes, longer wait times, and threaten Medicare as it currently exists. Republicans can win over Americans by informing the public of the true costs of government-run healthcare.
But LHCC only advances the government takeover of healthcare. If Republicans want to win in 2020, they need to drop this plan and remain firmly opposed to socialized medicine. It’s how they won in years past, and it’s how they’ll win again.