Editorial: A ‘better way’ for health care

The Detroit News

House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, have been rolling out a comprehensive policy agenda, covering issues from poverty to tax reform. Last week, Ryan discussed some of the details in the GOP plan to replace Obamacare. While it’s only a blueprint at this point, it offers some tangible solutions to the health care law’s biggest flaws.

The health care plan is one of six policy areas the GOP is tackling in its “A Better Way” agenda. The rationale for revamping the Affordable Care Act covers some of the GOP’s chief criticisms of the law.

“Obamacare is making things worse by the day,” the plan states. “It is driving up premiums and deductible costs for individuals, families, and businesses. It is forcing people off the plans they like. It is fueling waste, fraud, and abuse. And it cannot be fixed.”

The 37-page white paper offers some solutions to these problems, but since it is not a detailed legislative package, it leaves out a lot of details about how the GOP plan would work and how much it would cost.

Ryan has received criticism for this. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was blunt in her critique.

“It’s not a bill. It isn’t scored,” she complained to reporters after Ryan presented the plan at the American Enterprise Institute. “We’re trying to figure out how many people would lose insurance.”

Yet at least Ryan’s outline is brief enough people can read it. Recall Pelosi’s infamous comment back in 2010 that “we have to pass the (health care) bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”

Most Americans still probably have no idea what all is in the law, at nearly 3,000 pages. What many people do know is they haven’t appreciated getting kicked off health plans they liked — not to mention paying higher rates for subpar plans. While more Americans are now insured, the costs to make that happen are growing by the day.

The GOP proposal maintains it would bring back choices and flexibility — and reduce government mandates. It revolves around tax credits for individuals to buy coverage from private insurers. And it contains other familiar Republican ideas such as greater access to health savings accounts, medical liability reform, and ways to make Medicare sustainable for future generations.

It also suggests putting $25 billion aside for high-risk pools of people with pre-existing conditions and creating state blocks grants for Medicaid to rein in spending. Medicaid expansion, which was at the heart of Obamacare, has received significant resistance from the states. Nearly 40 percent have refused to expand the program, even with the federal government’s promise of covering most of the costs. These states understand the huge drain the program is on their budgets.

Joseph Antos and James Capretta, health care experts at the American Enterprise Institute, had praise for the blueprint while noting it’s just a first step.

“The health care plan is not yet in legislative form, and so some important details are not specified,” they observed last week. “Still, it’s an ambitious plan, and represents a real milestone. It is the first proposal released since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 that legitimately can be called the Republican alternative.”

The health care proposal and the others in the Better Way package are adding intellectual heft and fresh ideas to the Republican Party, at a time when prospective GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is dumbing down the conversation. This is exactly what Ryan and other party leaders should be doing.