Lingering ObamaCare battle is good news

Filed under: Opinion,Print |

Since being signed into law by the president in March, ObamaCare has been explosive politically, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Coupled with a continuing poor economy, ObamaCare played a key role in Republicans gaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives, picking up seats in the Senate, and making big strides in governorships and state legislative seats.

Given that much of this massive expansion of government in health care is being phased in over several years, the debate will continue in the halls of Congress, in state legislatures, in the courts, and on the campaign trail.

According to a Rasmussen Reports survey released on Dec. 20, for the first time since the health care measure was signed into law, a majority of likely voters — 52 percent — believe that the repeal of ObamaCare is at least somewhat likely. Fifty-five percent favor repeal, while 41 percent oppose it.

After the Nov. 2 election earthquake, the next big health care shake up came on Dec. 13 when Federal District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled the ObamaCare individual mandate — i.e., that individuals must obtain health insurance or pay a penalty — is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration claims that it can force people to have or purchase health insurance under the Commerce Clause. But as Hudson noted in his decision: “Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market.”

Later, the judge argued that this mandate “would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.” He added: “At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.”

Just days after Judge Hudson’s decision was announced, arguments were heard in Florida in a case brought by 20 states against ObamaCare, again focused on federal power, including the individual mandate and the burden placed on state budgets.

Under ObamaCare, the individual mandate does not kick in until 2014. Before then, the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will have already happened, and legal challenges likely will have reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, Republicans in the 112th Congress will be seeking both symbolic votes to repeal ObamaCare, and ways to actually defund the measure.

But, no doubt, the big battle will come during those 2012 elections. Will Republicans be able to gain the Senate and the White House? And if so, will they have the smarts and courage to repeal ObamaCare, and pass measures that actually improve health care in this nation, as opposed to Obama’s expansion of government that promises increased costs and diminished quality?

Well, a very early frontrunner for the GOP presidential nod in 2012 is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who gained national attention for turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Romney has worked hard in recent years, including during the 2008 presidential race, to firm up his conservative credentials. But he led the way for an ObamaCare-style health care plan in Massachusetts before ObamaCare ever existed. In a real sense, RomneyCare laid the groundwork for Obama’s misguided health care plan, including mandating that individuals and employers purchase health insurance, or pay a fine.

In a recent report, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance noted the following about the Massachusetts’s health care system: “The state is straining to control costs, and has a new problem — declining access to medical providers. Despite these problems, the federal government is looking to follow Massachusetts’s lead.”

It’s noted later: “In Massachusetts, the only state to impose an individual mandate, the twin mid-1990s ‘reforms’ of guaranteed issue (i.e., insurers must accept every applicant) and modified community rating (i.e., charging the same rates regardless of the applicant’s health) drove up individual policy rates so that only the wealthy could afford coverage. Massachusetts reform has done nothing to lower the cost of health insurance; rather it hides the cost by subsidizing coverage for targeted populations. And while Massachusetts may be an extreme example, the federal government has chosen to follow its lead.” That includes imposing regulations and mandates that drive up costs, while also “making it difficult for insurance companies to offer affordable policies with limited benefits.”

The answer to ObamaCare is not a Republican RomneyCare. Instead, full repeal of the Obama plan is achievable given its long phase-in in some key areas.

After that, positive reforms include allowing individuals and business to purchase health insurance across state lines in order to expand competition and achieve savings; equalizing tax treatment for health insurance and care purchases; medical tort reform; expanded consumer control (as opposed to more government control) through health savings accounts and health care vouchers for the needy; properly constructed state high-risk pools for the medically uninsurable; and reduced mandates and regulations in order to make insurance more affordable.

Recent developments make clear that the health care debate did not end with the president signing legislation in March. Opportunities still exist to stop the ObamaCare mess.

Keating, chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, can be reached at rkeating@sbecouncil.org.