We got a glimpse last week of what would happen to our health care system if Republicans increase their control of Congress and win the White House in 2016.
Gone would be the part of Obamacare that Americans tell pollsters they don’t like: the requirement that they enroll in some kind of health plan or pay a penalty that grows more severe every year. In addition, the GOP would get rid of the provision mandating that employers with more than 50 workers offer subsidized coverage.
But the GOP would also eliminate the existing parts of the law protecting us from insurance company practices that used to keep millions of us in the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured—and just an illness or accident away from financial ruin.
Of course the sponsors of the Republican alternative —called the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment Act—or Patient CARE—don’t spin it that way. In fact, the language they use makes their plan sound like a simple, common sense, no-brainer alternative to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., Obamacare.)
"We can lower costs and expand access to quality coverage and care by empowering individuals and their families to make their own health care decisions, rather than having the federal government make those decisions for them," said Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-North Carolina), one of the three authors of the plan. The others are Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah), who now chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Fred Upton (R-Michigan.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman.
As always, though, the devil is in the details. The reality is that the GOP plan would take us back to the days when insurers could sell junk policies, charge older folks more than they can today and calculate premiums based on a person’s health status. This means that a breast cancer survivor or a diabetic or someone recovering from a heart attack—or even a young person born with a disability or congenital disease—would have to pay a fortune for decent coverage if, God forbid, they let their existing policy lapse for two months or longer.
The Republican sponsors say their plan would restore freedom of choice they claim was taken away by Obamacare. There is some truth to that. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance policies to cover 10 essential benefits, ranging from preventive care to prescription drugs and a stay in the hospital. People no longer have the freedom to buy policies so skimpy they have to pay almost all of their medical bills out of their own pockets. The Patient CARE Act would restore that freedom. And it would also restore to insurance companies the freedom to set annual limits on coverage.