My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
In an effort to remind Republican primary voters there are actually important issues facing our nation that do not involve Donald Trump’s latest bombast, Scott Walker released his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Politically, it is a winning issue. Despite years of spinning from President Barack Obama and his minions and billions of taxpayer dollars spent advertising it, Obamacare is still strongly opposed by the American people. According to Real Clear Politics, an average of 48.4 percent of the American people opposes Obamacare with only 40.2 percent supporting it.
But as the old adage goes, one cannot replace something with nothing. Opposing Obamacare is not enough, which is why Walker has released his plan in plenty of time for voters to consider it before they head to the polls.
Essentially, Walker’s plan is to replace Obamacare with a series of reforms that are designed to move health care decisions away from the federal government and toward the consumer while expanding consumers’ choices. As Walker said in his recent column accompanying the release of his plan, “So let’s call Obamacare what it is: the result of a decades-long plan by the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party to seize control of health care choice and freedom from individuals and states and hand total power over to the federal government in Washington.”
Walker is right and his plan is a good start toward shifting that power back into the hands of the people. His plan starts with repealing Obamacare. After that, some of the reforms in Walker’s plan are policies that have been advocated by health care reformers for years.
Walker would allow Americans to shop for insurance in any state. Currently, individuals are prohibited by law from purchasing health insurance across state lines. It is an antiquated legal restriction on the insurance industry that arbitrarily limits consumers’ choice. In a 21st century economy where anyone can sit in front of their computer and buy products from businesses all over the world, it is ridiculous that Americans are still limited to only buying health insurance from companies in their own state. Lifting this restriction would open up the health insurance market to much more competition, to the benefit of consumers.
In his plan, Walker would also offer a refundable tax credit for people who sign up for a health savings account and increase the limit on HSA contributions. HSAs were a Republican reform from 2003 that allow people to keep a portable, tax-free account to pay for a wide array of health care expenses while maintaining a high-deductible insurance plan for catastrophic health care emergencies. HSAs have proven to be a successful tool to control health care costs by giving the health care consumer more control, and more responsibility, over the health care they consume.
There are many more great reforms in Walker’s plan, but there are some bad ideas, too. For example, Walker proposes to provide refundable tax credits to anyone without access to employer-sponsored health insurance, regardless of income. If one accepts the premise that it is the taxpayers’ responsibility to make sure everyone has health insurance, which I do not, then at the very least the taxpayers should only subsidize the health care costs for those who cannot afford it. That is what programs like Medicaid already do. It makes no sense for the taxpayers to give tax credits to wealthy people who can already afford it. Especially in light of our highly progressive federal income tax where the top 20 percent of taxpayers pay 84 percent of the income taxes, such a program is just another transfer of wealth.
Walker’s plan for replacing Obamacare is not perfect, but it is the start of a substantial conversation about a critical political and economic issue. It reminds us that while primary elections tend to focus on the latest poll, gaffe or “gotcha” interview, one of these people is going to be the next President of the United States. Their ideas deserve more attention than their hairstyles.