House Republicans will vote this week on Rep. Fred Upton's (R-MI) "Keep Your Plan Act," which would allow insurers to sell health insurance plans that existed on the individual market on January 1, 2013. The bill is cleverly modeled and named to embarrass President Obama over his failed, "If you like you health insurance plan, you can keep it," promise.
Upton's bill further pokes Obama by making the plans available to all Americans, not just those that recently had their plans cancelled due to Obamacare.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has sponsored similar legislation in the Senate, the “If You Like Your Health Plan, You Can Keep It Act," which does pretty much the same thing as the Upton bill, but only allows those that had their plans cancelled keep their old plans.
As fun as both of these bills are politically, there are a number of practical problems with both them. Specifically, insurance companies can't just wave a magic wand and bring these plans back from the dead. Health insurance analyst Bob Laszewski explains:
Cancellation letters have been sent. Their computer systems took months to program in order to be able to send the letters out and set up the terminations on their systems. Even post-Obamacare, the states regulate the insurance market. The old products are no longer filed for sale and rates are not approved. I suppose it might be possible to get insurance commissioners to waive their requirements but even if they did how could the insurance industry reprogram systems in less than a month that took months to program in the first place, contact the millions impacted, explain their new options (they could still try to get one of the new policies with a subsidy), and get their approval?
The Obama administration told the carriers to be ready on October 1 and they are ready. You just can't waive a magic wand and put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
So if the Upton and Johnson bills can't help anybody, what should Republicans do?
Laszewski goes on to identify some things the Obama administration could do administratively to soften the blow of Obamacare's meltdown. And Republicans should not do anything legislatively to help clean up Obama's mess. He passed this law with only Democrat votes. He owns this.
But insisting on full repeal only isn't politically helpful to Republicans or practically helpful to Americans either.
Instead conservatives should start pushing for partial repeals of Obamacare, knowing that full replacement will not be possible till at least 2017. Such a bill could:
1. Repeal the individual mandate. This is just common sense. You can't punish people for not buying something that is almost impossible to buy. Plus the mandate has always been highly unpopular with the American public.
2. Let all Americans buy catastrophic plans. Currently, Obamacare only allows Americans under 30, and those that qualify for mandate hardship exemptions, to buy catastrophic insurance. Republicans could further expand this loophole and allow all Americans to buy these lower cost plans. Allowing insurance companies to sell state-approved catastrophic plans nationwide would also work.
These two items will not fix Obamacare or the health care system. But they would be a start. They would shrink the size and scope of the federal government and alleviate some pain caused by federal government intervention in the health care marketplace.
Some on the left have even called for Democrats to repeal the employer mandate as well. Like the repeal of Obamacare's 1099 reporting requirements, Republicans should be open to this too.
As long as any "fix" to Obamacare both mitigates Obamacare pain, and decreases the size and scope of the federal government, Republicans should be willing to sign on.