March 16, 2018

PHIL GRAMM: How to Complete the Escape From ObamaCare. “Congress eliminated the individual mandate. There’s a way around the other onerous regulations.”

Democratic leaders in Congress were quick to recognize that Idaho’s plan to grant health-care freedom to its citizens posed a mortal threat to ObamaCare. Sens. Patty Murray and Ron Wyden were joined by Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal in sending an intimidating letter to the director of Idaho’s Department of Insurance, threatening massive fines and demanding emails and phone records. Since Idaho has shown no sign of backing down, this battle is certain to escalate. Democrats clearly understand that if Idaho is able to market its “Freedom” insurance, as many as 30 Republican-led states will quickly follow its lead. Health-care freedom in Idaho could lead to the de facto end of ObamaCare throughout America.

The Trump administration and Congress are also working to expand health-care freedom nationwide. When the current administration reversed President Obama’s policy of making cost-sharing payments to keep insurance companies in the exchanges, insurers responded by raising the price of their federally subsidized benchmark insurance options. This premium increase on the benchmark policies triggered an automatic increase in the subsidies, all funded by federal taxpayers. State insurance regulators conveniently looked the other way in 2017, but ObamaCare specifically granted the federal government rate-review powers to prevent insurance companies from gaming the system. The benchmark ruse is unlikely to pass HHS scrutiny in 2018.

Before the repeal of the tax penalty, Democrats couldn’t bear the political cost of being seen as dismantling ObamaCare, but they will be forced to act as the program contracts. As healthier families flee the exchanges and premiums spiral, Democrats will be desperate to boost the subsidies. Politically, it will be very difficult for Democrats to deny people who have voluntarily left the exchanges the freedom to buy their own health insurance independent of ObamaCare regulations. Their stubborn reluctance to permit more-flexible plans will provide cover for Republicans to oppose increasing subsidies to the exchanges.

Since actually repealing ObamaCare proved too much for hundreds of Republicans who ran for years on just such a promise, this might be the next best thing.

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