Obamacare is front and center with the February 15 deadline for enrollment right around the corner. It is also facing a looming court challenge to its legality with March trial of King vs. Burwell. And in the event that the verdict rules against Obamacare, the Republicans are now ready with their much-anticipated alternative healthcare program.
According to Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary Bill Corr, Obamacare has reached “a historic moment” in the fight to deliver universal healthcare, citing the 10 million individuals who obtained access to healthcare through The Affordable Care Act, and also the 7.5 million who either signed up for or renewed their enrollment for calendar year 2015. Corr highlighted Obamacare for expanding access to affordable and reliable healthcare. He also praised insurance reforms that prevented individuals from being denied coverage or dropped from coverage for pre-existing conditions. Corr also referenced the positive impact of the incentives which HHS created to entice healthcare providers to improve care. For instance, 90% of Medicare pay for service payments will now be tied to value instead of volume. Also, healthcare.gov has also turned a corner. The insurance carriers listed on the site are now covering 70% of its cost, demonstrating that the site has moved beyond the initial functionality and user access hurdles towards a path of long term sustainability.
Obamacare is definitely at a turning point. On March 4, The Affordable Care Act will go on trial in King. Vs. Burwell. The plaintiffs in King are questioning the federal government’s authority to offer subsidies to the people in the 37 states who purchased their coverage through the federally operated healthcare.gov. This all came about because of the specific verbiage in the Affordable Care Act, which states that the federal government can only offer subsidies “through an exchange established by the State”. So if the ruling goes with the verbatim interpretation of the document, Obamacare will collapse. Individual subscribers will see their healthcare tax bills increase to $5000. And while some Democrats may make the argument that the 37 states without exchanges will rush to establish them, that scenario is not very likely. Several state exchanges have already failed, including Oregon and Maryland.
Apparently, the Republicans are ready to promote their own version of Obamacare. The much anticipated GOP alternative to Obamacare was introduced by Senator Orin Hatch (Republican- Utah), Senator Richard Burr (Republican- North Carolina) and Representative Fred Upton (Republican-Michigan). The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment (CARE) Act reportedly promises to offer relief from the most burdensome aspects of Obamacare. States will have the option of opting out of the individual and corporate mandates. The penalty for not adhering to individual mandate to carry health insurance is currently $325, up from $95 in 2014. The penalty for not adhering to the employer mandate that all organizations with 50 or more full time employees offer health insurance to their full time employees is currently $2000 per employee (after the first 30 employees). In some instances the penalty can go as high as $3000 per employee. The GOP proposal is also reportedly offering individuals the opportunity to purchase health care with pre-tax dollars just as corporations do. The plan provides greater price transparency and allows individuals to buy healthcare across state lines. The plan also includes tax credits to small businesses, caps Medicaid allotments so that states have more flexibility and more predictable funding streams, and institutes additional medical malpractice reforms.
The Republicans are backing up their anti-Obamacare rhetoric with action. When Mitch McConnell took office as Senate Majority Leader he repeatedly spoke about revisiting Obamacare, describing it as unworkable piece of legislation which is detrimental to the American people. Finally, we are seeing the glimpse of a healthcare program which increases consumer access to affordable quality healthcare without imposing onerous requirements or consumer or corporate penalties. Furthermore, the plan drives market competition and empowers individuals with “choices”. After all, shouldn’t individuals have a say in how they spend their money on their healthcare needs?
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