Tom Price’s Alternate to Obamacare

Georgia congressman offers a Republican plan to replace the ACA
Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) / AP

Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) / AP

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Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) is tired of hearing that the GOP is not proposing alternatives to Obamacare.

Price has proposed variations of comprehensive health care reform during three different Congresses. The first proposal came in 2009, then again in 2011, and most recently in June 2013.

“You can’t beat something with nothing,” Price told the Free Beacon. “I think you always have to have that contrasting positive, principled solution and that’s what we’ve been putting forward.”

Price’s latest bill, the Empowering Patients First Act of 2013, has 40 cosponsors and is currently in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

To date, none of the proposals have made it out of committee or enjoyed support of GOP leadership. However, as the Affordable Care Act faces a turbulent rollout, Price’s legislation seems increasingly well positioned to warrant reconsideration.

“There’s not unanimity [within the GOP] about whether there should be a comprehensive Republican plan. I’ve been pushing for it since the very beginning, as have some of the people […] and we’ll continue to push,” Price said.

“I understand why it’s difficult to move forward when you’ve got a law that is currently in place that is garnering so much attention. Folks’ attention isn’t that great unless there is a crisis. The crisis is coming and so I think there will be greater attention paid to the alternatives available,” he said.

A key difference, and perhaps the most marketable, between Price’s legislation and the current health care law is the method employed to encourage individuals to purchase insurance.

Obamacare relies on penalties. The Empowering Patients First Act relies on incentives.

According to Price, the legislation ensures that “every single American, regardless of their economic situation, has a financial incentive and the feasibility to purchase the coverage that they want through the tax code. Tax deductions, tax credits, refundable tax credits, advance refundable tax credits, so that every single American can purchase coverage that they want.”

Ezra Klein, of the Washington Post, criticized this notion in 2009.

Klein wrote that the legislation would not work, in part, because there was no individual mandate and consequently there would be nothing to ensure that “the [insurance] pool includes both healthy and sick individuals.”

“Americans respond to positive incentives,” Price said. “What our proposal would do is make it so that it’s financially favorable. Individuals would be better off having health coverage financially than not.”

“People make the right decision,” Price said. “The American people are smart in terms of their purchases and in terms of their evaluation of public policy. And they will decide what serves them best. In this instance what would serve them best is to have health coverage that they want to purchase.”

Price’s legislation centers on a plan to resolve health care issues without placing Congress in charge of health care.

“The fundamental principle is that patients, families, and doctors ought to be making medical decisions, not Washington, D.C.,” Price said.

It would provide access to coverage for all Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions, while allowing individuals to own their insurance.

Employment-based health care typically uses what is known as third-party health insurance. The employer largely controls and manages the insurance. Consequently, insurance is contingent upon employment.

Price sees this as a problem, noting individuals should not lose their plans if they change or lose a job.

“We solve that simply by saying: ‘Regardless of who’s paying for your health coverage, you own it.’ So it’s like a 401k plan,” Price said.

“If you change your job or lose your job, it goes with you. You take it and plug it in wherever you end up.”

Those with pre-existing conditions in the individual market would be able to join group associations and purchase insurance across state lines, allowing them to “pull together” in order to have purchasing power and prevent one individual’s health status from “driving up costs” for others.

Furthermore, the bill focuses on reforming the health care structure to root out waste, most of which, Price notes, is associated with defensive medical care.

Price sees his legislation as a viable, conservative alternative, but acknowledges unless Democrats repudiate the current law it will be difficult to move forward with any alternatives.

“I think at this point there is a general consensus within our conference that Republicans have done absolutely all we could humanly, possibly do to prevent the enactment of [Obamacare],” Price said. “My sense is that unless Democrats wake up and realize that they are harming the American people it will continue down the path to enactment. We’ve got to have some Democrats realize that they need to represent their constituents and not the president.”

Currently, one Democratic senator has called for a significant delay of the Affordable Care Act.