Donald Trump is serious about wresting control of our healthcare system away from the federal government and giving power back to patients, and he just showed it by naming Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Price is both an ardent opponent of Obamacare and an enthusiastic advocate for a more patient-centered healthcare system.
While virtually every Republican in Congress opposes Obamacare's one-size-fits-all approach, Price has actually proposed detailed policy alternatives that make health insurance more affordable and accessible to patients.
Price's plan, the Empowering Patients First Act, would improve American healthcare in three important ways. First, it would eliminate Obamacare's provisions that increase the cost of health insurance. It would abolish the ACA's "essential health benefits" — rules that force people to buy coverage for a range of expensive services they may not need or desire. These mandatory benefits include maternity care, newborn care, as well as pediatric vision and dental care, even if someone doesn't have children.
These insurance regulations have dramatically increased the cost of insurance, particularly for millennials. A report by the Manhattan Institute found that premiums increased 52 percent for young men and 22 percent for young women within the first year of the healthcare law. Since then, insurance has become more expensive and more out of reach. It's no wonder one-in-five adults below the age of 36 say they cannot afford regular healthcare expenses, according to a recent Harris Poll. Experts at the Heritage Foundation estimate that repealing Obamacare's essential benefits and other mandates will reduce premiums by 44 percent for young adults and 7 percent for adults in their 50s and 60s. This will make coverage much less expensive and more attainable.
Without these regulations dictating how insurers sell coverage, patients will be free to choose from a greater array of health coverage options to meet their medical needs. Young and healthy people could choose low-cost plans that protect against catastrophic expenses with high deductibles for routine care. At the same time, older and sicker individuals will be able to choose different plans that offer more comprehensive coverage.
Price would further reduce healthcare costs by making it easier for people to get insured outside of the traditional health insurance market. The Empowering Patients First Act would allow churches, alumni organizations, trade associations, and other Individual Membership Associations to pool their members and provide health coverage. Once voluntary associations have the ability to pool together, they can effectively bargain on behalf of their members for lower hospital prices just like large companies bargain on behalf of their employees. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that association pooling will reduce premiums by 13 percent and expand coverage to 4.6 million people.
Finally, the act would also expand coverage options by allowing insurers to compete for customers across state lines. Nearly every state prohibits insurers licensed in other states from selling within their borders. This arrangement protects in-state insurers from competition at the expense of consumers who wind up with higher premiums and fewer choices. Price's bill would unlock state insurance markets and let individuals purchase insurance on a national market. A study by the University of Minnesota finds that ending state restrictions on insurance sales as Price desires could cover an additional 17 million Americans without raising a penny in new taxes.
None of these changes will be easy. They'll be fought by powerful vested interests that benefit from Obamacare at the expense of patients, doctors, and families. But with Tom Price leading HHS, Republicans finally have a fighting chance to replace Obamacare with a more patient-centered healthcare system.
Charlie Katebi is an advocate at Young Voices and a health policy analyst at the Wyoming Liberty Group. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.