What others say: Price is right to address ObamaCare shortcomings

  • Wednesday, December 7, 2016 4:30pm
  • Opinion

The belief among Democrats that a Republican could never win another presidential election was apparently so firm that they’re still in a state of shock. They’re even more stunned that Donald Trump has dared to name an ObamaCare critic as his health-care point man — which makes for an instructive moment.

Tom Price, a six-term Georgia Congressman and mild-mannered orthopedic surgeon, is an unlikely villain. But liberals are already saying the Health and Human Services nominee will shred the social contract, leave poor people and cancer patients panhandling for care, and jail women for their reproductive decisions. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood claims that Mr. Price “poses a grave threat to women’s health in this country.” Earth to the abortion lobby: Declining to mandate and federally subsidize birth control coverage is not the same as “banning” it.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association is facing an internal and social-media revolt over an anodyne statement that called Mr. Price “a leader in the development of health policies to advance patient choice and market-based solutions as well as reduce excessive regulatory burdens.” Supposedly this was a betrayal of doctors and patients, or something, but the big health-care societies always cater to power. They do so because so much of medicine is decided by government.

Mr. Price’s nomination is a refreshing signal that such state control isn’t an inevitability or necessity, starting with replacing ObamaCare. Most liberals are getting the bends coming up from their false triumphalism. They’ve spent years claiming the center-right vision for health care isn’t worth serious study while mocking Republicans for supposedly futile repeal votes. Maybe Republicans meant what they said.

You’d think that the people who designed and enforced a failed program might show more humility, or at least stop lecturing others. Even Hillary Clinton’s staff recognized the law is imploding. In a private Nov. 23, 2015 memo published by WikiLeaks, Chris Jennings, a former Obama aide who joined the campaign, wrote that the law’s performance is “at best, disconcerting” and identified other “troubling” signs.

One of them is that only about eight million people have paid the tax penalty for violating the individual mandate to buy insurance, and another 12 million have received regulatory exemptions. In other words, more people who were supposed to benefit from ObamaCare have opted out than have enrolled.

Now Democrats are assailing Mr. Price for proposing alternatives to the mess they created. The Republican, who took over the House Budget Committee from Paul Ryan, is a thoughtful and well-informed problem solver. Unlike many of his colleagues, Mr. Price hasn’t dodged details and specifics. He proposed an alternative to ObamaCare during the 2009-10 debate and in the years since he’s put flesh on the bones, including with legislative language.

Mr. Price’s Empowering Patients First Act relies on fixed-value tax credits to stabilize the insurance markets outside of employer-sponsored coverage. The switch to a defined contribution from a defined-benefit model is based on the transition to 401(k)s from pensions.

The American Medical Association is also right about Mr. Price’s opposition to central health-care planning. ObamaCare says the HHS Secretary “shall” write more than 1,800 regulations, and HHS has put out tens of thousands of pages of rule-makings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that employment among “medical and health services managers” has increased by 31.5% since 2011. These are administrative workers who don’t treat patients but merely ensure compliance with federal and state mandates, and they help explain why U.S. health care is so expensive.

On that score, Mr. Trump also excelled by making Seema Verma his director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with its trillion-dollar budget. She’s an architect of the Health Indiana Plan under former Governor Mitch Daniels and then Mike Pence that makes Medicaid more like private insurance and encourages beneficiaries to contribute to their own care. Ms. Verma even got a waiver from the Obama HHS, which in general has tried to suppress state innovation.

Republicans will have challenges as they attempt to transcend their own divisions and take responsibility for health-care policy for the first time in a decade. But sending Mr. Price over to HHS is one of Mr. Trump’s better personnel decisions.

— The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 7

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