July 22,2015

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Why fight against Obamacare isn't over


By Orrin Hatch

July 22, 2015


Shortly after the Supreme Court sided with the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, many of the law's supporters declared the ruling a rightful reprieve, saying that the Court's action ensured the law's resilience.

President Obama boldly proclaimed "The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."

But the facts beg to differ.

While the Court's ruling did allow the administration to continue recklessly implementing Obamacare, it did nothing to change an unmistakable flaw of the law -- its fundamental inability to address rising premiums and costs that will burden many American families and taxpayers as a result.

This inherent failure threatens the viability of the health law much more than a Court ruling.

Right now, many insurance plans from states across the nation are proposing dramatic rate increases, and recent headlines make that clear:

An average of 23% in Illinois; 25% in North Carolina; 31% in Oklahoma; 36% in Tennessee; and a whopping 54% in Minnesota, according to an article in the New York Times.

In fact, Congress's nonpartisan scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has longed warned of this, and most recently forecast that premiums are set to increase overall by about 6% per year.

Earlier this year, millions of consumers across the country learned they might be further squeezed by Obamacare's sticker shock.

At a time when wages remain essentially stagnant and the median family income remains largely unchanged, the failure of the law to address premium hikes head on is unacceptable for families working to make ends meet.

The administration argues that under the health law, these increases will be alleviated by subsidy contributions for patients. That may be the case, but in the end, some families will still pay more and hardworking American taxpayers will still foot the bill for those increasing costs.

The CBO has said subsidies for health plans purchased on the exchange will rise sharply -- up to 14.2% of GDP by 2040 if nothing is changed.

This math alone challenges the notion that the health law is here to stay. If the law remains on the books unchanged, the only things that will persist are its harmful consequences.

That is why Republicans are undeterred by the Court's ruling, and with a number of plans, proposals, and legislation authored by conservatives in Congress, we are ready to change course on health care.

In February, I put forward an Obamacare replacement plan with Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Fred Upton. The plan, the Patient CARE Act, would specifically address what Obamacare does not: costs.

Instead of taxing, regulating, and mandating, our plan would empower patients with targeted tax credits and, unlike Obamacare, give them the choice and flexibility to purchase a variety of insurance plans without interference from Washington.

To increase competition and drive down costs, our plan would do away with Obamacare's over-regulation. Doing so would incentivize insurance companies to produce new and innovative plans that are more affordable.

Our plan would give patients multiple tools: It would give consumers the ability to purchase insurance plans outside their own state, require that health care prices are made more transparent, and for the first time ever, allow expanded health savings accounts to be used for paying premiums and deductibles, so self-employed Americans can receive the same fair tax treatments as those working for big corporations.

At the same time, we would not return to the status quo before Obamacare. Insurance plans would still be required to maintain common sense consumer protections, including covering those with pre-existing conditions and allowing individuals to stay on their parents' plan until age 26.

These are common sense, conservative reforms aimed at increasing choice and lowering costs. According to an analysis from the Centers for Health and Economy -- a health policy think tank headed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO director and now president of the conservative American Action Forum -- our plan would succeed. Its findings show the Patient CARE Act would decrease premiums and improve access to care at better prices.

While repeal and replace plans such as this are our ultimate goal, it will require a Republican White House and Congress to become law. In the meantime, Republicans should continue to work to repeal parts of the health care law at every available opportunity.

As the Supreme Court ruling neared, President Obama said if the Court sided against the government, Congress could easily make a legislative change to fix the law. In a press conference at the G7 Summit, the President was asked about what would need to be done if the Court ruled against the administration and he said: "I'm optimistic that the Supreme Court will play it straight when it comes to the interpretation. And, B, I should mention that if it didn't, Congress could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision."

I hope, as we move forward, the President maintains this openness to congressional action on the health care law, as there are many unworkable provisions that have bipartisan support for repeal.

This isn't about being Republican or Democrat. It's about ending the negative consequences of Obamacare and creating a health system that once again puts the patient at the center of our health care system.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.