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THE EAGLE: GOP health care bill would restore consumer choice

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BRYAN, March 19, 2017 | comments
By Rep. Bill Flores

Americans are faced with lots of rhetoric about health care today and what Washington is doing about it -- some factual and some not. In order to address this, I am writing to have a candid conversation about the current state of The Affordable Care Act (commonly known as "Obamacare").

This discussion has to start with the condition of Obamacare today. When it passed Congress in 2010, its goals were to increase access to health care and to improve affordability. My Central Texas constituents have made it clear to me that these goals were not met. The number of national health care insurance provider options has dropped from 232 choices in 2016 to just 167 today -- a decline of about 30 percent. In Texas, 70 percent of our counties have just one health care insurance option. Without quick action from Congress, many of those counties will lose all options in 2018.

Learning the hard way
Many families have learned the hard way that having an insurance card does not necessarily mean they have access to affordable quality health care. I have heard many stories from constituents -- our families, local charities, governmental institutions, and employers -- who have endured huge increases in health care insurance premiums, followed by having to pay thousands of dollars of uncovered "out-of-pocket" costs. In addition to the failed promises of improved access and better affordability, these families also were promised a number of other benefits: "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" and the biggest whopper of all: "families should see an average decrease in premiums of $2,500." Americans soon discovered that all of these demonstrably were false.

It may be a surprise to you, but members of Congress and their staff are limited to being on Obamacare exchange plans for their health insurance. So, my family has experienced firsthand the same failures of Obamacare, with a tripling of my monthly premium costs since 2013 and an explosion of out-of-pocket costs from roughly $3,000 per year to more than $14,000.

21st century solution
In light of the failures of Obamacare, President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans ran on a platform including the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. House Republicans and the Trump Administration have developed a three-phase plan to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered, free-market solutions for the 21st century.

The first phase is a bill called the American Health Care Act (AHCA) which uses a legislative process known as budget reconciliation to repeal and replace meaningful sections of Obamacare. Unfortunately, Senate rules for the use of reconciliation restrict what we can include in the American Health Care Act in order to pass it with a simple majority in the Senate.

Using the reconciliation process, the act is comprised of the same repeal components that were used in the bill House and Senate Republicans passed in 2015 (the "2015 Repeal"), which then-President Barack Obama vetoed. The American Health Care Act starts with the 2015 Repeal and includes policies to allow Americans to transition to a 21st century health care system that lowers costs, encourages competition and most importantly, empowers patients to take control of their health care decisions. Additionally, it ensures that each and every American, regardless of previous coverage or any preexisting condition has the option to maintain insurance coverage. The American Health Care Act also includes the most dramatic reforms to Medicaid since the mid-1960s.

Second phase
The second phase of our plan utilizes administrative review and action. Obamacare currently allows the secretary of Health and Human Services substantial latitude to stabilize the health insurance market, increase choices and lower costs. Now that Dr. Tom Price serves in that role, he has committed to work with the House to use the substantial authority granted to him to relieve hardworking American families from the burdens of Obamacare. In the short time since he was confirmed, he already has used his authority to allow states much needed-flexibility to prioritize market stability and increase affordability.

The third phase of our plan consists of additional legislative action that cannot be included in phase one because of Senate constraints for the use of budget reconciliation. Some of these legislative polices include allowing individuals to purchase coverage across state lines, allowing small businesses to pool together and purchase insurance, reforming medical liability, and dealing with high drug costs. Phase three will start the same week we vote on the American Health Care Act and will be ongoing during 2017.

Lower premiums
The Congressional Budget Office recently reviewed the American Health Care Act and its estimates showed that the bill would lower premiums by 10 percent, reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion and provide $883 billion in tax relief for hardworking American families and small businesses. While some concern has grown over the projected coverage numbers, it is important to note that this budget office estimate is based only on phase one, the American Health Care Act. It does not take into consideration any of the future actions that will take place in phases two and three of our plan. It also inaccurately states that persons may "lose" coverage, when the truth is we are restoring freedom for consumers to choose to buy or not to buy health insurance.

The bottom line
The bottom line is the Republican three-phase plan, starting with the American Health Care Act, will increase access to quality, affordable care and allow for families to have more freedom and flexibility to get the health care coverage that is right for them. The Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans remain committed to working together to stop the burdens that failed Obamacare policies have placed on the backs of our families and businesses.

Principles are clear
Our principles are clear. We believe health care must be patient focused, market-driven, competitive, and affordable. We believe in using market incentives to purchase health insurance, not mandating it, or penalize those who forego purchasing coverage. In addition, we believe that the states must have the Medicaid flexibility they need to meet the health care needs of lower income, elderly, and disabled populations.

We now have a chance to deliver a 21st century health care system that offers quality, affordable, market-based health care options; and I am confident that our plan will give all Americans better choices and empower them to make their own health care decisions, free of Washington mandates and unelected bureaucrats.

Bill Flores of Bryan represents Texas District 17 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To view this column as published CLICK HERE.

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