House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a $700 billion health care plan that would offer tax credits to help people buy insurance, yet unlike Democratic proposals, wouldn't require either individuals or employers to get coverage.
Some of the ideas in the plan appeal to moderate Democrats, but with Republicans out of power, there's little likelihood their proposal will be enacted. Nonetheless, it will give GOP lawmakers under fire for their opposition to President Obama's plan something positive to point to when they go home for the congressional August break.
"We are introducing this bill because we support health care reform, but in way that empowers patients," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the House Republican Study Committee. "While the president continues to insist there is appetite for the status quo in Congress, it's not coming from Republicans."
The plan avoids expanding the federal role in overseeing the health insurance industry. Unlike Democratic proposals, it would not set up new federally regulated purchasing pools for individuals and small businesses. Instead, it would allow individuals to use the Internet to purchase lower-cost coverage available anywhere in the country. That idea won't please insurance commissioners from states with strong consumer protections, who have argued it will set off a "race to the bottom" that undermines coverage for those in frail health.
The Republican plan would offer tax deductions and tax credits to help make the purchase of health insurance more affordable for individuals. It would provide grants to states to help set up high-risk pools for people with medical problems who are denied coverage by commercial insurers. And it would allow employers to automatically sign workers up for the company's coverage -- similar to what's done with 401(k) retirement plans.
The GOP bill would take on medical malpractice, limiting jury awards for pain and suffering and creating new health courts in which a specially trained judge would hear and decide cases involving medical negligence.
It would give doctors what amounts to veto power over recommendations from a new federal board that's been assigned to compare the benefits of new treatments, tests and medications. Recommendations from the Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research could not be enacted without the approval of the medical specialty society that would be affected.
Republicans say their plan is fully paid for, but it hasn't been assessed yet by the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper for the costs of legislation.
It's also unclear how far the plan would go in reducing the number of uninsured, now nearly 50 million. Most independent analysts -- and the insurance industry -- say some sort of requirement to purchase insurance is needed to ensure coverage.