Rep. Tom Price's 'Empower Patients First' Act
Just spent a few minutes on Dylan Ratigan's program chatting with Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) about his "Empower Patients First" Act. Price's bill has a couple of good ideas in it: Automatic enrollment, for one thing. And extending the employer tax deduction to individuals while capping it at "the average value of the national health exclusion for Employer Sponsored Insurance (family/singles) grown at inflation." This amounts to a huge tax increase, incidentally, although Price won't call it that.
But the plan won't work. In particular, its version of the health insurance exchanges will collapse pretty quickly. There's no individual mandate ensuring that the pool includes both healthy and sick individuals, no insurance market regulations stopping insurers from cherrypicking, and no risk adjustment rebalancing the scales when they do. In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California. Price isn't learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.
In the interview, Price explained that he couldn't abide by an individual mandate because it meant Congress would define what constituted insurance, and that would harm awesome products of the market like Health Savings Accounts and catastrophic policies. Defining insurance, Price said, is not a good role for Congress.
This is a weird argument given that Rep. Price voted for the legislation that created and defined HSAs.
HSAs are accounts that Congress has blessed with a special exemption from taxation. That means they were created by an act of Congress (the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, to be precise), and they are defined in legislation written by Congress. You can see the regulations here. Price is really saying that Congress shouldn't define insurance in a way that harms other things that Congress has defined as insurance. But that makes for a rather worse soundbite. The argument here, however, is not a philosophical question about the reach of Congress. It's an argument about what the minimum level of health-care insurance should look like.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young.
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