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No Republican alternatives to ObamaCare? Think again

The White House and Nancy Pelosi announced with great excitement this week that the President’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is a huge success because they hit their goal of signing up 7 million people to the new federal system.

The celebrating should stop there. Hitting a target without full recognition of the brokenness of the overall health care  scheme is nothing to be proud of.

The law has provided anything but economic security to Americans who need a buffer against life’s unexpected circumstances. For instance:

  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the law’s incentives will slash our economy’s total number of hours worked by the equivalent of around 2.5 million jobs by 2024, and its redefinition of the work week will force schools and small businesses to either cut employees’ hours or lay them off entirely.
  • President Obama said Americans could keep their doctors and insurance plans if they liked them, but it is estimated that more than 5.5 million U.S. residents have received cancellation letters from their insurers, including 185,000 Illinoisans. An economist from the American Enterprise Institute estimates that as many as 43 percent of Americans will face changes to their insurance plans.
  • The persistent claim that the law would “bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family” has proven untrue. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office predicted in 2009 that premiums would increase 10-13 percent in the individual market and $2100 per family in the non-group market. A CMS study has predicted that 65 percent of small businesses may see their health premiums increase. And premiums have continued to rise for middle class Americans.

Our leaders in the governor’s mansion have jumped on the bandwagon, ignoring the challenge that the law poses to Illinois. While Gov. Quinn did not hesitate to push Illinoisians onto ObamaCare, enrollment has lagged. Only 13,733 Illinois residents signed up for coverage during the first five months of the enrollment period, more than 100,000 people short of the original goal. So Gov. Quinn decided to partner with the satirical news site, The Onion, to push enrollment. While The Onion is skilled at humor, losing your insurance or doctor is no laughing matter for Illinois families.

The administration’s solution to the law’s disastrous performance is to suspend the rule of law, and authorize a myriad of delays of some of the law’s most unpopular provisions under a “fix-of-the-day” approach to public backlash. And it’s no coincidence that some of these delays push the law’s application until after the November midterm elections.

While Democrats fight to delay the law’s real consequences for health consumers until after they’ve secured re-election, House Republicans have always fought for positive alternatives – not just repeals – that will provide economic security for Americans, while protecting patient choice and driving down health care costs.

H.R. 3121, the American Health Care Reform Act, and H.R. 2300, the Empowering Patients First Act, both repeal the president’s health care  law but spur competition to lower health care costs and provide tax incentives for people to maintain health insurance.

These bills and others like them embody viable alternative models to ObamaCare.

These ideas include allowing Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines, enabling small businesses to pool together and get the same buying power as large corporations, and allowing individuals to pool together to provide coverage through churches, alumni associations, trade associations, and other civic groups.

Smart tax provisions would allow families and individuals to deduct health care costs, just like companies. Expanding, not retracting, access to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), would allow individuals to deposit even more of their income tax-free into savings accounts that they can use for health expenses.

Reforming medical malpractice laws would protect caring doctors who just want to practice medicine.

Alternatives like these would also give greater flexibility to Medicare patients, tackle fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and address our doctor shortage by offering loans to medical students.

Thursday, the House will take up a bill I co-sponsored, H .R. 2575, the Save American Workers Act, which will protect hard-working Americans from losing hours and wages as a result of the law’s redefinition of the work week.  American workers fought hard for the 40 hour work week. They shouldn’t have to give it up just because the administration needs the money that would come to the federal government by way of fines to keep the ACA afloat.

But we should also keep what is good about the President’s law by safeguarding individuals with pre-existing conditions through state-based high risk pools and extending HIPAA guaranteed availability protections. No one should be denied coverage based on a disease or ailment outside of their control.

Like any piece of legislation, these ideas aren’t perfect or complete. They need to be debated through the normal legislative process to fine-tune them to the needs of American health consumers. That’s what was missing when the Affordable Care Act was passed four years ago: a thorough debate about what works and what doesn’t.

While the law was passed by one side of the aisle then, that shouldn’t stop us from working together to truly reform our health care system. I hope Democrats will stop doubling down on promises that have proven impossible to keep, and join us in this fight to offer real economic security to struggling Americans.

Randy Hultgren represents Illinois’ 14th U.S. Congressional District.

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