On Jan. 23, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana introduced an Obamacare “replacement” plan before the U.S. Senate. Dubbed “The Patient Freedom Act of 2017,” this legislation would repeal some aspects of Obamacare while states “that like Obamacare” the chance “to keep Obamacare” or adopt a market-based alternative subsidized by the federal government.
Let’s be clear: The proposal in no way counts as an Obamacare replacement. A more accurate description of the bill was given by the Washington Examiner’s own Philip Klein when he called it “Obamacare Forever.” For one, it all but guarantees that Obamacare will live on indefinitely in states that choose to maintain the status quo. Moreover, the bill keeps in place some of the health law’s most disastrous provisions, including 95 percent of the law’s federal insurance subsidies and the requirement that insurers accept all customers regardless of their health status. This last feature, known as the “guaranteed issue” rule, is one of the chief drivers of the rising premiums and deductibles that are fueling Obamacare’s “death spiral.” Failing to wipe this rule off the books isn’t a legislative compromise, but rather a forfeit.
Worse, the Senators’ ‘New State Alternative’ option — the so-called “market-based” option available to states that scrap Obamacare — adds its own horrors to our broken healthcare system.
Under this plan, states would be free to auto-enroll their residents in an insurance plan of the state’s choosing. The argument for this provision is that it would raise coverage rates while also bringing more healthy people into the insurance market to help subsidize care for those who are older or sick.
Of course, Obamacare’s individual mandate was supposed to serve this same purpose. That policy was a drastic government intervention into the insurance market that forced Americans to purchase coverage or pay a tax penalty. Auto-enrollment goes one step further, effectively purchasing coverage for consumers whether they want it or not. In other words, it takes one of Obamacare’s most paternalistic — and least popular — components and makes it worse.
Voters have handed Republicans an historic chance to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Cassidy-Collins proposal squanders that opportunity on a plan that neither repeals nor replaces the previous president’s misguided health law. Let’s hope that Republican lawmakers rally around a single, comprehensive replacement plan very soon. They’ve delayed this process long enough.