With the train wreck that Obamacare has become, Republicans may think that they can sit back and watch as this administration and Democrats self destruct. For now and for a bit - they can.
But the truth about health care is that life wasn't all daisies and sunshine prior to the ACA debacle. And for those who believe that Republicans can coast on this unnatural disaster - you're simply incorrect.
So, after some momentary schaudenfraude, those Republicans who truly care about our nation and its people need to don their collective thinking caps. They need a fiscally responsible, free market plus assistance for those who need it health care system.
The biggest Republican misconception about health care is that the system before ObamaCare was a free-market paradise. On the contrary: It has consisted chiefly of massive and inefficient entitlements that threaten to bankrupt the nation; the lopsided tax treatment of employer-provided coverage that creates incentives for waste and overspending; and an underdeveloped individual market struggling to fill the gaps.
The outlines of such reforms have been apparent for years. The key is to enable all Americans to purchase coverage and to approach health care as consumers: with an interest in quality and an eye on cost.
The first step of a plan to replace ObamaCare should be a flat and universal tax benefit for coverage. Today's tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage should be capped so that people would not get a bigger tax break by buying more extensive and expensive insurance. The result would be to make employees more cost-conscious; and competition for their favor would make insurance cheaper.
That tax break would also be available—ideally as a refundable credit sufficient at least for the purchase of catastrophic coverage—to people who do not have access to employer coverage. This would enable people who now choose not to buy insurance to get catastrophic coverage with no premium costs. It also would give those who want more-comprehensive coverage in the individual market the same advantage that people with employer plans get.
Medicaid could be converted into a means-based addition to that credit, allowing the poor to buy into the same insurance market as more affluent people—and so give them access to better health care than they can get now.
All those with continuous coverage, which everyone could afford thanks to the new tax treatment, would be protected from price spikes or plan cancellations if they got sick. This guarantee would provide a strong incentive to buy coverage, without the coercion of the individual mandate. People who have pre-existing conditions when the new rules take effect would be able to buy coverage through subsidized, high-risk pools.
By making at least catastrophic coverage available to all, and by giving people such incentives to obtain it, this approach could cover more people than ObamaCare was ever projected to reach, and at a significantly lower cost.
The new alternative would not require the mandates, taxes and heavy-handed regulations of ObamaCare. It would turn more people into shoppers for health care instead of passive recipients of it—and encourage the kind of insurance design, consumer behavior and intense competition that could help keep health costs down. Redesigned and directed this way, the flow of federal dollars and tax subsidies would do much less to distort health markets than it has for the last several decades, while getting far more people insured.