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Transcending Obamacare

August 13, 2014

By Avik Roy

PRINTER FRIENDLY

Today, the Manhattan Institute is publishing my 20,000-word, 68-page health reform proposal entitled “Transcending Obamacare: A Patient-Centered Plan for Near-Universal Coverage and Permanent Fiscal Solvency.” It represents a novel approach to health reform: neither accepting Obamacare as is, nor requiring the law's repeal to move forward. And yet its ambition is to permanently solve our health care entitlement problem, while also expanding coverage for the uninsured.

As most Apothecary readers know, I've long been critical of Obamacare, the so-called Affordable Care Act. The law expands Medicaid, the worst health insurance program in the developed world. It significantly drives up the underlying cost of health insurance for those who shop for coverage on their own. And regardless of what John Roberts has to say about it, Obamacare's individual mandate—forcing most Americans to buy government-certified health coverage—is an injury to the Constitution.

But I've also long supported the principle of universal coverage. Universal coverage, done right, is a core part of a conservative worldview that values equality of opportunity for the sick and the poor. If 10 of the 11 freest economies in the world can establish universal coverage, it's not impossible for the United States to do so in a way that is consonant with economic freedom.

Switzerland and Singapore: Market-based health reform models

The most market-oriented health care systems in the developed world—those of Switzerland and Singapore—have much to teach us about how to achieve universal coverage in a way that spends far less than what the U.S. does. In 2012, U.S. government entities spent $4,160 per capita on health care. That's more than twice as much as Switzerland, and nearly five times as much as Singapore.

And that brings us right back to Obamacare. The vast majority of the law is misguided and misconceived. But a handful of its provisions can provide the basis of constructive health care reform: in particular, its use of Swiss-style means-tested tax credits to subsidize private health insurance premiums. Most importantly, those tax credits are applied to insurance plans that people shop for on their own, substantially expanding the market for individually purchased health coverage.

The Swiss system is far from perfect, as I have discussed on many occasions. But the basic idea in Switzerland is to offer premium subsidies to the people who really need them. In Switzerland, one-fifth of the population gets subsidized health coverage. In the U.S., around four-fifths do. That's the difference between a safety net and an entitlement leviathan.

Conservative health reform after Obamacare

One of the fundamental flaws in the conservative approach to health care policy is that few—if any—Republican leaders have articulated a vision of what a market-oriented health care system would look like. Hence, Republican proposals on health reform have often been tactical and political—in opposition to whatever Democrats were pitching—instead of strategic and serious.

Those days must come to an end. The problems with our health care system are too great. Health care is too expensive for the government, and too expensive for average Americans.

In 2012, as the Romney campaign came to a close, Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, asked me to write an article with my thoughts about the best path forward for conservative health care reform. I outlined a four-step plan to take the entire gamish of government health care programs and reform them into something consumer-driven and fiscally sustainable: (1) deregulate Obamacare's insurance exchanges, including repeal of the individual mandate, while preserving guaranteed issue for individuals with pre-existing conditions; (2) migrate future retirees onto the reformed exchanges; (3) repeal Obamacare's employer mandate; (4) migrate Medicaid acute-care and dual-eligible enrollees onto the exchanges.

“After these four relatively simple steps,” I wrote, “we would be left with a health-care system that would look a lot like Switzerland's. Rises in premium subsidies could be held to a sustainable growth rate to ensure their long-term fiscal stability. And Americans might finally have the opportunity to purchase insurance for themselves, gain control of their own health-care dollars, and enjoy a wide range of low-cost, high-quality coverage options.”

A few months later, former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and I wrote a similar piece for Reuters, which elicited a broad range of responses from both the left and the right.

It became clear that I had to do more than write op-eds, that I had to develop this idea in detail, with credible fiscal and economic modeling.

Modeling market-based health reform

So, over the last 18 months, I've done just that. Stephen Parente, a health economist at the University of Minnesota, and his team modeled the fiscal and coverage impact of the bulk of my proposed set of reforms. (I then modeled the remainder, using analyses from the Congressional Budget Office, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the like.)

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, where I am a Senior Fellow, raised money to fund Parente's work on this project. Steve and his team and I went back and forth for months, refining and tweaking the proposal until it met five non-negotiable goals. The end result had to:

  1. Reduce the deficit without raising taxes
  2. Expand coverage meaningfully above ACA levels
  3. Repeal the individual mandate
  4. Reduce the cost of private health insurance
  5. Improve health outcomes for the poor

Based on our modeling, the plan, over a thirty-year period, reduces federal spending by $10.5 trillion and federal revenue by $2.5 trillion, for a net deficit reduction of $8 trillion. We project that it will expand coverage by more than 12 million individuals over its first decade, despite the fact that it repeals the individual mandate. It reduces the cost of private-sector insurance policies by 17 percent for single policies and 4 percent for family policies.

But the most dramatic improvement, we estimate, is in the Medicaid population. A group that today receives substandard care and substandard access to care will see a dramatic increase in provider access and health outcomes, based on Parente-developed indices that measure these things.

Breaking free of the repeal-or-reform debate

Importantly, while this plan is compatible with “repealing and replacing” Obamacare, it does not require the repeal of Obamacare. To achieve the former, you would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a universal system of state-based health insurance exchanges. To achieve the latter, you'd reform the pre-existing ACA exchanges, and gradually migrate future retirees and Medicaid enrollees onto the reformed exchanges.

In this way, perhaps the plan can attract interest from both the right and the center.

We'll soon find out.

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/08/13/transcending-obamacare-an-introduction-to-patient-centered-consumer-driven-health-reform/

 

 
 
 

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