House GOP Outlines Health Care Plan
By Ben Pershing
House Republicans today outlined their own blueprint for health care reform, pledging -- with few specifics -- a better, cheaper alternative to the plans being hatched by President Obama and congressional Democrats.
Members of the GOP leadership and the party's "Health Care Solutions Group" held a press conference this morning to unveil their proposal, which would rely heavily on tax credits and reform of entitlement programs to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. Most importantly, Republicans emphasized, their plan would not include the public insurance option that most Democratic proposals do.
"We believe that if there's a government competitor, you will not be able to keep what [insurance] you have," said Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), who is leading the House GOP's health care effort. Blunt predicted that "the government will not compete fairly" in the insurance market and would thus drive private insurers out of business.
Instead, Republicans would provide people who don't have insurance from their employers with a tax deduction equal to the cost of their premiums, so they could buy the insurance themselves. The GOP blueprint also call for employees of small businesses to band together to buy insurance through "association health plans," which former president George W. Bush advocated during his term in office. And Republicans would implement medical malpractice reform, a topic that was a point of contention during Obama's address this week to the American Medical Association.
The minority's plan includes dozens of other elements, all designed to increase efficiency in the health care system "within the existing market structure," explained Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), without creating a "new federal bureaucracy." But Republicans today were unable to say how much their plan would cost, how they would pay for it or how many people it would insure.
"I guarantee that we will bring you a bill that will cost far less" than the final Democratic plan, Blunt said, but neither he nor his colleagues would provide even a ballpark estimate of their plan's price tag.
Senate Democrats have had at least two health care proposals scored by the Congressional Budget Office but House Democrats haven't had theirs scored yet, so House Republicans say they will wait for the chamber's majority to get its still-unwritten legislation priced before they go to CBO with their own plan.
Republicans made a point of saying that their plan was designed to give every American "access to insurance," but would not set a benchmark for how many people actually would be insured. As for whether the GOP will use tax increases to pay for their bill, Blunt said specifically that taxing employer health benefits is "certainly not part of our plan." But he would not make any promises beyond that.
Barton, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he would offer a full-fledged GOP alternative when the panel meets to mark up the majority's health care bill. The markup has not yet been scheduled.
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