The Corner

States Should Innovate, Not Imitate

On Monday, President Obama performed a magical smoke-and-mirrors routine for America’s governors. While hosting them at the White House, he pledged to provide states with more flexibility to tailor their own approaches to his health-care law. The day afterwards, the Washington Post reported, “Obama offers states more flexibility in health-care law.”

Americans should read the fine print. The president specifically said that only if states can create a plan that “covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does” can they implement their own plan.

Instead of providing states with the flexibility to innovate, the president demanded that states imitate.

In fact, the only states that could possibly fulfill Obamacare’s requirements are states that already have a similar plan. The rest of the states across the country will not benefit from the president’s pledge. They do not want and cannot afford to live with health plans that match Obamacare’s burdensome requirements.

The president’s “my way or the highway” approach doesn’t allow states to get out of job-crushing mandates, offer consumer-directed health plans, lower costs, and provide any relief from his Medicaid expansion.

As 33 of our nation’s governors recently wrote in a letter to the president, “The effect of the federal requirements is unconscionable; the federal requirements force Governors to cut other critical state programs, such as education, in order to fund a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to Medicaid.”

This is not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem; it is an American problem.

In California, Democratic governor Jerry Brown is expected to cut $1.7 billion from Medicaid because of Washington’s overreach. His fellow Democrat, Andrew Cuomo of New York, is cutting at least $2 billion. In South Carolina, Obamacare increases the burden of Medicaid by nearly $1 billion by the end of the decade. Without the option of dealing with Medicaid’s mandates, all states will be forced to either cut other services, such as schools or public safety, or raise taxes. This is what happens when Washington treats every state as a square peg that needs to be forced into the same round hole.

In February, we introduced legislation that will deliver true freedom and flexibility to the states.

The “State Health Care Choice Act” (S. 244) will allow states to opt out of four crushing mandates of the president’s health-care spending law. The bill frees states from Obamacare’s individual mandate, job-crushing employer mandate, unprecedented Medicaid expansion, and overly restrictive insurance-benefit mandates.

The State Health Care Choice Act will liberate states from the expensive burdens forced upon them. It empowers them to design and implement tailored health-care reforms. The states are laboratories to test good ideas, not pawns to be forced into a one-size-fits-all approach. Our bill will be crucial to transfer power from Washington back to the states.

Every state has different health-care needs. Each state should be able to develop solutions that work best for their residents. If states are given the freedom to look out for their own people, they will use that flexibility and innovation to generate better health-care solutions.

Innovation is alive and well, especially in the area of health-care policy. Just look at Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels has offered state workers the option of opening health savings accounts (HSAs). When it’s tried, this idea is both popular and cost-effective. It saved $2,000 per worker and was chosen by over 70 percent of eligible workers in 2010. Rhode Island has experimented with Medicaid block-grant waivers, to similar effectiveness.

Neither of these proposals would fit the president’s health-care requirements — but they work best for these states.

With the State Health Care Choice Act, the states will have the freedom to use innovative solutions like these. States that want to try similar programs should be permitted to do so — without having to meet the president’s budget-busting requirements.

Our bill is the kind of reform Americans want, and it’s the kind of reform Americans need. If the president really wants to give states more freedom and flexibility, he will support the State Health Care Choice Act. As it stands, President Obama’s state “opt-out” really is nothing more than a cop-out.

Sen. John Barrasso represents Wyoming, and Sen. Lindsey Graham represents South Carolina, in the U.S. Senate.


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