The Supreme Court is probably about to hand congressional Republicans a once-in-a-lifetime chance to eradicate the Obamacare contagion from the body politic, but the GOP has been typically timorous concerning whether to take advantage of this opportunity. A refreshing exception to this poltroonery has been Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Price, who practiced medicine in Atlanta for twenty years before coming to Congress, has not only introduced an eminently viable replacement for the imploding health care “reform” law, but has also said he won’t support proposed legislation that would temporarily extend Obamacare subsidies that SCOTUS deems illegal.
The subsidies in question are those which have been challenged in King v. Burwell, upon which the Court is expected to rule in late June. The Democrats and their allies in the establishment media have waged a vigorous propaganda campaign designed to convince Republicans that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, which would halt Obamacare subsidies in 37 states, will put them in dire political jeopardy. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, predicts that Republicans will “rue the day” the Court invalidates the tax subsidies. Outlets like Politico have produced innumerable stories with portentous headlines such as “Supreme Court Obamacare case poses political peril for GOP.”
A number of GOP “leaders” have bought this balderdash. Senator Ron Johnson, for example, has introduced legislation to perpetuate the controversial Obamacare subsidies through 2017. Price has more intestinal fortitude. When questioned about his view of that option late last week, he replied thus: “I don’t think that I would be supportive of continuing the subsidies beyond what the Court would allow.” Oddly enough, this puts him on the same page as the Republican base. As Greg Sargent reports, “A new poll finds that a solid majority of GOP respondents want the Court to nix subsidies… an even larger majority of Republicans want Congress not to update the law if the Court rules that way.”
If the Supreme Court rules that the IRS can’t funnel subsidies through federal exchanges, Price wants to pull the plug on Obamacare and replace it with his own alternative, the Empowering Patients First Act. Price’s plan would, of course, repeal Obamacare with all its counterproductive and oppressive provisions: The egregious individual and employer mandates would go away. The cruelly deceptive Medicaid expansion would be eliminated. The “minimum essential benefits” provision that has been so instrumental in driving up health insurance premiums would be dumped. The outrageous contraception mandate would be discarded along with federal funding for abortions. Ad infinitum.
Unlike the “Affordable Care Act,” the Empowering Patients First Act would bring with it a variety of genuine reforms that will accomplish what the public always wanted most from reform—lower costs. Among these is the creation of an interstate market for health insurance. Price’s plan will allow consumers to shop across state lines for health insurance, which will increase competition among insurers and reduce premiums. It will also institute reforms designed to discourage lawsuit abuse. This will reduce the huge number of unnecessary and expensive tests ordered by physicians trying to avoid the depredations of ambulance chasers like former Democrat Senator John Edwards.
One of the most innovative features of Price’s plan involves the way it replaces Obamacare’s Byzantine subsidy system. Instead of subsidies based on income, his plan would provide tax credits based on age. The idea of basing such credits on age rather than income originated with the 2017 Project, which hoped to “revitalize an individual market that the federal government has broken.” The plan offers refundable, age adjusted tax credits as follows: $1,200 for those between 18 and 35 years of age, $2,100 for those between 35 and 50, $3,000 for those over 50, and $900 per child. These tax credits would be available only to those who purchase health insurance through the individual market.
There is obviously a good deal more to the Empowering Patients First Act than can be covered in this space. The full 242 page bill can be found here. And, for those with actual lives, an 11-page overview can be found here. Suffice it to say that it is, by any rational measure, superior to Obamacare. But the most daunting challenges facing Dr. Price’s replacement legislation have very little to do with its substance. The two problems Price will have to overcome, even if the Supreme Court declares the controversial subsidies illegal, will be an intransigent White House and a GOP Congress too timid to pass this obviously viable replacement and dare the President to veto the bill while Obamacare collapses.
The President, his congressional accomplices, and their media allies believe the voters are idiots. And, if SCOTUS rules against the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, they will tell the public that everything can be tidied up with a one-sentence amendment. But the voters have never liked Obamacare, they know there is more wrong with it than some arcane textual glitch, and they know who shoved it down their throats. They won’t blame the GOP or the Court for the collapse of “reform” in three-dozen states. They’ll blame the people who wrote the unworkable law and bungled its implementation. But the GOP has to show some fight, and trust the voters who put them back in power to do this job.