Health Care Reform: Republicans, Beware the Trap of 'Limited' Reforms

Controls breed more controls. The seemingly innocuous "reform" of requiring insurers to cover all pre-existing conditions would merely set the stage for ever-tightening controls until liberal Democrats achieved their long-held dream of a complete government takeover of health care -- only gradually, rather than all at once.

The Republicans must not help them succeed.

The government's function is not to guarantee "universal coverage" any more than it is to guarantee everyone a car or a job. Instead, the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, including the rights of insurers and customers to trade in a free market under any mutually agreeable terms to their mutual benefit.

To specifically handle the issue of patients with pre-existing conditions, John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis has detailed "Ten Small-Scale Reforms for Pre-Existing Conditions" based on (predominantly) free-market principles that would "encourage insurers to compete to cover patients with chronic illnesses, rather than trying to avoid them." Similarly, University of Chicago professor John Cochrane has proposed an innovative system of "health status insurance" which would allow individuals to purchase options now which would protect them against future rate increases or loss of insurability due to illnesses they might develop later.

These proposals would address the problem of pre-existing conditions by removing (or at least reducing) existing controls, thus allowing patients, providers, and insurers to trade more freely to their mutual benefit.

More broadly, Republicans should advocate repealing existing bad laws that prevent many Americans (including those with pre-existing conditions) from purchasing affordable insurance. Insurers should be allowed to sell policies across state lines. States should repeal onerous mandates specifying what benefits insurers must offer, who they must cover, and what prices they may charge. Patients should be allowed to use Health Savings Accounts for routine expenses and purchase low-cost "catastrophic-only" policies to cover rare expensive events. Such free-market reforms could reduce insurance costs up to 50% for millions of Americans, without setting the stage for a future government takeover of health care.

The Democrats' current difficulties with passing ObamaCare legislation have created both an opportunity and a danger for Republicans. The GOP has a golden opportunity to demonstrate leadership by fighting for genuine free-market health reforms. But they also risk being suckered into supporting seemingly-innocent faux "reforms" that will merely give the Democrats a victory they couldn't win at the ballot box.

Duke University professor John Lewis once observed that the Democrats' last "secret weapon" against the American people was the Republicans' willingness to compromise. For America's sake, let's hope the GOP avoids that trap and instead chooses free-market reforms.