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Here’s The Conservative Path Forward On Healthcare

REUTERS/Erin Scott

Amber Athey White House Correspondent
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Conservative groups are rising to the challenge of crafting a health care plan that embraces individual choice as opposed to the big government plans proposed by Democrats.

The right’s efforts on health care last blew up when Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain gave his infamous “thumbs down” to the Senate’s “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, and support for the follow-up Graham-Cassidy bill collapsed.

Since their 2017 failures, the Republican Party has been relatively quiet on the issue of health care reform, despite years of bluster about the Affordable Care Act. Their silence gave the Democratic Party the opportunity to control the debate during the 2018 midterm elections, during which voters consistently said that healthcare costs were their top issue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that “healthcare won” in the midterms, suggesting that voters’ focus on the issue helped Democrats retake control of the House. (RELATED: Democrats Credit Health Care For House Win In Midterms)

The Democratic Party’s momentum on health care seems ripe to continue into the 2020 presidential election, with a variety of candidates proposing single payer health plans, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All.” Such plans would give even greater power to the government to determine insurance coverage and, in the case of Sanders’ plan, could cost trillions of dollars over the next ten years.

While Republican lawmakers have offered little in the way of alternatives, national and state conservative think-tanks and private sector stakeholders have been steadily crafting a comprehensive health care plan since September 2017.

This “Health Care Consensus Group” of activists and researchers has been meeting almost weekly at The Heritage Foundation for the past 18 months, discussing how conservatives can move forward on healthcare after a series of failures.

The result is the “Health Care Choices Proposal,” a detailed plan that skirts repealing and replacing Obamacare and instead tries to make the existing healthcare framework work better for consumers.

The proposal would provide block grants to states that can be used much more freely than under the ACA system, including to subsidize the cost of private insurance plans for low-income individuals or other people who have left the insurance market entirely. The proposal would also eliminate onerous federal regulations on what type of coverage insurers must offer and would allow states the ability to create their own programs for citizens.

According to economic modeling of the plan by the Center for Health and Economy, the Health Care Choices Proposal would decrease the cost of private insurance plans by up to 32% and would decrease federal spending by $22 billion over eight years. The scoring projects a slight decrease in the number of insured because of a redirection of funding away from Medicaid, but adds that “the decrease in Medicaid enrollment would be mostly offset by increases in enrollment in the individual market.”

Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator and Republican presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016, is just one of the advocates involved in the new plan.

“This is about getting money out of Washington and to the states,” Santorum told The Daily Caller. “My theory is you can’t repeal an entitlement once it’s put into place, but you can make it more effective and efficient and place a budget on it.”

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum arrives for a meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 12, 2016. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum arrives for a meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 12, 2016. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Marie Fishpaw, the Director of Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told the Caller that the plan was designed based on what Americans said they wanted in a health care system.

Polling conducted by Heritage shows that 76% of Americans oppose plans that would decrease choices in health care providers and treatments, 69% oppose plans that would require an increase in taxes, and 62% oppose eliminating private insurance.

When asked what they support, 97% said they want lower costs and higher-quality plans, while 94% said that health care policy “should empower people — not government bureaucrats or insurance companies — to make decisions for their themselves and their own families.”

If you get sick, you want to know you can see a doctor. You also don’t want to pay as much,” Fishpaw explained. “This plan lowers costs, protects people with preexisting conditions, and it puts people in the driver’s seat instead of government or insurance companies.” 

Fishpaw expressed concerns about Republicans heading into another election cycle without a reasonable alternative to Democrats on the health care question.

You cannot go back into another campaign year and not have an answer on this,” Fishpaw said. “Candidly, I think it’s a shame they don’t have one right now.”

President Donald Trump seems to agree with that assertion — in April he insisted that Republicans are working on a new health plan that they would vote on after the 2020 election. The tease opened up the possibility that he plans to campaign for reelection with the promise to deliver on health care.

“[Republicans] are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) [and] deductibles than ObamaCare. In other words it will be far less expensive [and] much more usable than ObamaCare,” Trump said.

Santorum said he has “no idea” if Trump’s tweet was referring to the Health Care Choices Proposal, but expressed optimism that the president would embrace something similar.

“Trump understands that we need a plan,” Santorum asserted. “The concept [for the Health Care Choices Proposal] was that we knew the president would love it … this would work in concert with what Trump has already done.”

Fishpaw noted that a version of the proposal has been included in the president’s budget over the past two years.

“This is a very broad working group, including policy makers in federal government as well as throughout the country,” she said. 

The president has taken other actions to overhaul the healthcare system in the meantime, including an executive order this week on increasing transparency on health care pricing. Trump called the order, which requires hospitals and insurers publish negotiated rates for service, the “opposite of Obamacare.” (RELATED: Trump Calls Latest Health Care EO The ‘Opposite Of Obamacare’)

The administration predicts that the new rules will cause health costs to drop significantly.

It is still unclear if Congress or the White House will publicly pick up the Health Care Choices Proposal, but Fishpaw pointed out the fundamentally different process embraced by conservatives working on the plan.

“It’s unusual in the sense that you often see congressional leaders drafting the bill and pitching it to conservative leaders,” Fishpaw stated. “This is the opposite.”