, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A leftist friend chided me early this year for my foolish optimism about repeal and replacement of Obamacare. I have to give her credit. She said the GOP did not have a viable plan — I’m sure she meant that both as a matter of policy and politics. I pointed to the several “plans” that were extant at the time, and even some that I thought might soon be formalized as legislation. I wrote off her skepticism as a failure on her part to understand an approach to health care policy less statist than the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Like so many on the left, she probably has trouble conceiving of any plan not relying on centralized control. Apparently, quite a few Republicans share that blind spot. Nevertheless, I was certainly naive about the prospects of getting anything through Congress quickly.

But the battle is not lost, even now. It should be obvious to everyone, as Michael Tanner notes, that the health care debate is far from over. The individual insurance market is in bad shape, reeling from the unfavorable balance of risks created by community rating, mandated coverage and guaranteed issue. As Robert Laszewski notes, the attrition in the individual market is dominated by individuals not eligible for Obamacare subsidies. While legislation is a much longer shot than I imagined back in January, there remain a variety of ways in which Obamacare’s most deleterious provisions can be neutralized and replaced to create a more market-oriented environment. And though it’s too bad that it might come to this, as the situation continues to devolve, new legislation might gain viability.

Tanner mentions a variety of administrative decisions sitting squarely in the hands of the Trump Administration: insurance company subsidies? congressional exemption from Obamacare? promotion of open enrollment? enforcing the individual mandate? And there are many others. Tim Huelskamp provides a link to The Heartland Institute‘s “complete healthcare reform toolbox“. He says:

“During congressional testimony in March, my former House colleague and HHS Secretary Tom Price pointed out that the law offers him multiple opportunities to do just that: ‘Fourteen hundred and forty-two times … the secretary ‘shall’ or the secretary ‘may” make changes to the Affordable Care Act. The Price is right! Under Obamacare, he has tremendous power and latitude not only to dismantle the ACA but to replace it with health care options that enhance individual freedom.

Let Americans pick their doctors, choose a ‘skinny’ health insurance plan, or even purchase a plan from a company based in another state. The Trump administration can waive penalties on individuals and businesses who simply can’t afford Obama’s mandates.  HHS can give a green light to any state that wants to begin restoring choice and freedom for their citizens without federal bureaucrat interference.

Another productive avenue is deregulation of health care providers themselves. One of the worst aspects of the ACA is its reliance on so-called Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), which were intended to encourage greater cooperation and efficiency among providers. The reality is that the ACO rules imposed by HHS are leading to higher costs, greater financial risk and increased concentration in the provision of medical care. Patients, also, are often penalized by the monopolizing effects, and because they might not be able to continue seeing the doctor of their choice under the limits of the health plans available. Moreover, the ACA infringes upon the doctor-patient relationship by restricting the doctor’s authority and the patient’s choices about tests and treatments that can be provided. Many of these rules and restrictions can be undone by administrative action.

Finally, before we completely dismiss the possibility of a legislative solution, there is a new Republican health care bill to consider in the Senate. However, it is just as limited in its reforms, or more, than the bill that passed in the House and the one that failed in the Senate. It’s unlikely to go anywhere soon. There could be later opportunities to consider various pieces of reform legislation, especially if the Trump Administration makes good on its promises to roll back administrative rules put in place to implement the ACA. Sadly, for now we wait in vain for legislators and President Trump to overcome the intellectual failure at the root of the inaction on ending Obamacare. The lesson is that in human affairs, central planning doesn’t work!