Tom Price’s Plan to Replace Obamacare

by Andrew Stiles
He has thrice proposed a comprehensive alternative, but few have noticed.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich scolded Republicans this week for having “zero” ideas for how to replace Obamacare, a law the GOP desperately wants to repeal. It is an argument often employed by Democrats, who have been on the defensive lately as the president’s signature law has encountered a series of setbacks, and is becoming increasingly unpopular.

Either way, the notion that Republicans have no plan to replace Obamacare is news to Representative Tom Price (R., Ga.), who in June introduced a comprehensive alternative health-care plan — for the third time since 2009. It was originally introduced as the Obamacare alternative from the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), which Price chaired at the time.

The 250-page legislation, known as the Empowering Patients First Act, has yet to receive a vote in the House, but currently has 32 co-sponsors, including Representatives Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), Tim Huelskamp (R., Kans.), Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), and Tom Cotton (R., Ark.).

The bill is a comprehensive alternative, notes Price, who has more than 20 years of experience as a practicing orthopedic surgeon. His policy proposals, which conservative experts have praised, will probably be familiar to those who have closely followed the ongoing health-care debate.

The bill aims to provide affordable coverage for all through a series of tax credits and deductions designed to entice individuals into the insurance market with positive incentives, as opposed to Obamacare’s solution of fining those who refuse to purchase health insurance. “It’s a carrot instead of a two-by-four,” Price says. “Regardless of where one fits in the economic spectrum, there is a financial incentive to purchase health coverage that the individual wants, not that the government forces them to buy.”

The law would allow individuals to opt out of Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health-care-benefit programs in favor of receiving a tax credit; an individual’s health coverage would be “portable” — no longer tied to an employer — so losing a job wouldn’t also mean losing insurance; individuals and small businessed would be able to access insurance pools that reduce risk for those with pre-existing conditions, and they could purchase plans across state lines. Tort reforms would cut down on physicians’ practicing “defensive medicine” and driving up costs by ordering unnecessary procedures in an effort to avoid lawsuits.

The plan is based on six principles: affordability, accessibility, quality, responsiveness, innovation, and choice. “All of those principles are violated by the Affordable Care Act,” Price says. “When you step back and look at those principles, it guides you to a system that allows patients and families and doctors to be in charge.”

And yet when Republicans talk about health care, few actually point to Price’s bill as an alternative plan, which only reinforces the perception that the GOP has no plan beyond repealing Obamacare. “No,” Price laughs when asked if his plan has gotten the attention it deserves. Why not?

“Health care is complex, and most people don’t want to necessarily deal with it until they’re either forced to, or there is a clear path forward for it,” he says. “What we have proposed is a comprehensive solution to the health-care challenges that we face. But as the political winds blow, right now most folks are looking at Obamacare and saying, ‘Well, let’s see what happens.’”

Republicans are divided on the question of how best to achieve their ultimate goal of full repeal and have had trouble reaching a consensus on most issues relating to health care. In April, after conservatives revolted, House leadership was forced to abruptly cancel a vote on a health-care-reform measure championed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.); the measure would have created high-risk pools for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Currently, some Republicans want the demand for a full defunding of Obamacare to become part of the upcoming budget negotiations. Others want to see Obamacare delayed for a year, and there are still others who want to see Obamacare’s major provisions go into effect so that voters can experience the negative consequences of the Democrats’ misguided law. Not everyone believes, as Price does, that Republicans should champion an alternative solution.

“My goal is always to have a positive solution, a positive alternative if the current system isn’t working, and in health care, the current system clearly isn’t working,” he says. “The purpose of this bill is to say to folks: There are principled, patient-centered solutions in the area of health care. Here is our proposal.”

Price is also working with current RSC chairman Steve Scalise (R., La.) on a separate replacement bill that is set to be unveiled when Congress returns from the August recess. But he says that, “as a realist,” he doesn’t think Republicans are ready to unite behind an alternative health-care plan just yet. “I think we will need to see further dysfunction in the current law.”

“Obamacare will need a replacement, because it won’t work,” he adds. “We need all sorts of solutions out there on the table. Let’s have a deliberative process here, not one where something is shoved down the throats of the American people.”

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.

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