Time and time again during the health care debate, the American people were promised, “if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan, period. No one will take it away.” By now, it is obvious this statement was the result of policy ineptitude or craven political calculation. Either way, it is not what the American people deserve.
Republicans tried passionately to warn that this law was a failure. Common sense says when you significantly increase taxes, mandates and regulation on insurance plans, they will cost more and premiums will go up. The law included a grandfather clause allowing existing plans to remain in place. However, the hope of this clause actually enforcing the Democrats’ promise was dashed when the Obama administration came out with a rule in 2010 interpreting grandfather status so narrowly that even the administration predicted 40 percent to 67 percent of customers would lose their plans.
Once again, Republicans realized millions would lose their health care coverage because of Obamacare. U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced a resolution that would have sent it back to be amended to provide real protection to individuals who liked their policies. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats rejected the Enzi resolution.
Now we find 50 percent to 75 percent of people who buy coverage on the individual insurance market have received or soon will receive insurance policy cancellation notices. Not only are people being forced off plans they like, the plans they are being forced into are, in most cases, more expensive and, in many cases, of less value than what they had before.
In light of the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare and the full realization of its implications on the American people, some supporters of the law now are trying to backtrack. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, and other politically vulnerable Senate Democrats have introduced a bill that would force health insurance companies to offer the canceled plans.
There are a number of problems with Landrieu’s bill.
First, most of the canceled policies no longer exist. Since insurance companies have fully complied with the failed law, they already have dismantled most of the canceled plans. So it is questionable whether it is actually administratively possible to reinstitute them in time for re-enrollment.
Second, the bill forces insurance companies to offer the plans to those who were enrolled but prevents anyone else from signing up for a “grandfathered” plan. This approach would ensure these plans would not be actuarially sound because health plans rely on the rule of large numbers to spread risk and be viable.
Finally, it is questionable whether it would even be constitutional to impose such a direct and heavy-handed federal mandate on individual insurance plans, which are regulated by the states. If Obamacare has taught us anything, it is that centralized planning and sweeping federal mandates produce disastrous and often unanticipated consequences.
In contrast, the House recently passed a bill that would let insurance companies continue to offer plans that were in effect in the individual market before the end of the year. This would allow more people to enroll in these plans, maintaining the viability of the risk pools. While not a solution to all the problems in Obamcare, it provides the best opportunity to begin to rebuild the private health insurance market.
The Landrieu bill is an attempt to use even more federal mandates to fix the law. Our best possible solution is to repeal the law and replace it with market-based policies that reduce costs, the biggest barrier to health care access. If Democrats were serious about fixing the law, they would join with Republicans to achieve this goal. Instead, they continue to attempt a political charade in an effort to deflect political blame. Some would argue the charade is only meant to be long enough to win their next election. Let’s hope that’s not the case. Americans receiving insurance cancellations expect and deserve better.
Bill Cassidy represents Louisiana’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. This piece originally appeared at The Shreveport Times.