The inability of the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal, replace or even modestly repair Obamacare—its latest disappointing failed attempt came in the wee hours Friday morning—should not be the end of the discussion. If the federal government can’t or won’t act, the states, including Idaho, must.
Gov. Butch Otter should direct the state Department of Insurance to allow the sale of insurance plans even if those plans are not allowed under Obamacare. Recall, one component of the federal government’s increasingly destructive healthcare law is a mandate that requires insurers to offer specific benefits as part of every insurance plan. This is the reason your insurance plan includes maternity and newborn care, even if you aren’t planning to have children. It’s the reason your insurance plan includes mental health and substance abuse services, even if you or your family don’t need or want either.
Insurers face penalties if they sell plans that don’t contain all 10 of Obamacare’s mandated benefits. These unwanted benefits are part of the drivers behind ever-increasing insurance costs. Some estimates suggest that Idaho’s insurance premiums would be as much as 50 percent lower if plans did not contain Obamacare’s required minimum benefits. This is a reason why it’s important to ignore the mandated insurance provisions.
It's still early yet, and we haven't had a chance to query all the candidates for governor where they are on this idea, but kudos to Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who included development of non-Obamacare compliant insurance plans as part of the policy proposals he rolled out days ago.
Some of the Obamacare repeal/replace proposals tried to address the mandate issue. Texas Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, proposed an amendment to the House-passed Obamacare fix that would have allowed insurers to offer slimmed-down non-Obamacare compliant plans, so long as insurers continued to offer at least one plan that did follow the 2010 healthcare law. The idea was that consumers would be able to decide for themselves whether to select a plan that offered all the “protections” required under Obamacare or to buy a plan that costs less but also covers less. That amendment, among other reforms, failed.
The notion of the states ignoring a federal law is not new. In fact, any state that allows the open sale or use of marijuana is, famously, ignoring federal law. And as yet, and likely to continue, the federal government is doing nothing to stop it. It’s sensible to ask why states should be allowed to ignore federal law when it comes to marijuana and the failed war on drugs, but that they can’t or shouldn’t when it comes to healthcare and insurance.
It seems doubtful, at this point, that the Trump administration would penalize either insurers or states for failure to comply with Obamacare, especially if people are offered a choice that achieves the objective that the Republican-controlled Congress cannot reach through legislation—that of lowering health-related costs. Idaho and other states should act proactively to free their insurance markets and offer the plans that Americans want, instead of the plans Washington, D.C., politicians think they should have.
Ever-increasing insurance costs are crippling the economy, crippling families and threaten the financial security of everyone. Doing nothing is not an option. Waiting for Congress is not an option. The last, best chance of help with rising insurance premiums has to come from within our own state governments.