Universal Health Insurance Tax Credit Enters GOP Mix of Obamacare Alternatives

Published May 27, 2016

Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives will release a conference-wide plan to repeal and replace Obamacare by mid-July, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) office told Health Care News days after Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced House Resolution 5284, titled the World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan Act of 2016.

HR 5284, introduced on May 19, would establish a universal health insurance tax credit (UHITC) and other free-market health care policy reforms. Sessions said he spent the past 18 months discussing ways to reform the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with “Dr. John Goodman, doctors and healthcare providers, and hundreds of business owners in North Texas and across the country,” according to a May 19 press release. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and policy advisor at Health Care News publisher The Heartland Institute.

Pending: GOP Leaders’ Plan

Mike Long, communications director for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, says Republican leaders intend to publish a plan this summer crafted by the committee chairmen leading the Health Care Reform Task Force.

“The chairmen’s task force is hard at work on our ‘replace’ bill with the goal of releasing it by mid-July,” Long said.

The Health Care Reform Task Force comprises four House committee chairmen: Representatives Tom Price (R-GA), John Kline (R-MN), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Kevin Brady (R-TX). The task force’s goal is to “repeal and replace Obamacare with a patient-centered system that gives patients more choice and control, increases quality, and reduces costs,” according to a February 4 press release from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. Ryan has asked the committee to release its plan before the Republican presidential convention in Cleveland on July 18.

Republican Tax Credits, Deductions

Republican plans released so far would change the federal tax code to mitigate the cost of health insurance for individuals and families.

The Sessions-Cassidy legislation would provide a universal health insurance tax credit (UHITC) of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for married couples filing jointly, plus $1,500 per qualifying dependent.

A plan Price released in May 2015 would award tax credits for health insurance based on the ages of taxpayers and their dependents, ranging from $900 per year for individuals under age 18 to $3,000 for individuals aged 50 and older, according to the text of the Empowering Patients First Act of 2015.

Instead of a credit, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) has recommended a standard federal income tax deduction for health insurance of $7,500 per individual and $20,500 per family, as proposed in the American Health Care Reform Act of 2015 (AHCRA), sponsored by Rep. David Roe (R-TN) and 98 cosponsors.

All three plans also promote the use of health savings accounts and include provisions for giving states block grants to fund and reform their Medicaid programs according to their particular needs.

Contending for Influence

RSC Communications Director Caitlin Carroll says she is confident AHCRA will help shape the Health Care Reform Task Force’s plan.

“The Republican Study Committee’s American Health Care Reform Act was introduced with more cosponsors than any other Republican health care plan last year,” Carroll said. “We have submitted many of the ideas from AHCRA to Speaker Ryan’s task force, and we believe our proposal will help the House develop a robust health care reform alternative.”

Replacing the ACA with an alternative that empowers patients is more important than the prospects of any particular plan.

“Any plan that dismantles Obamacare and moves toward patient-centered reforms should be considered as part of the House’s ongoing discussion about what a conservative health care reform plan should look like,” Carroll said.

Patient Choice, Insurer Competition

Peter Ferrara, author of Power to the People: The New Road to Freedom and Prosperity for the Poor, Seniors, and Those Most in Need of the World’s Best Health Care and a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, says the Sessions-Cassidy plan would put patients at the center of a health care market free to compete for their business.

“It’s based on freedom of choice and free-market competition,” Ferrara said. “Those are the two foundations for this plan. All the Obamacare spending is repealed by this bill. It’s replaced by the centerpiece of the plan, the UHITC. All individuals would be eligible for this credit, which they can use to buy the health plan of their choice.”

In contrast to an unlimited deduction, which “encourages you to buy to buy as much health insurance as you can possibly consume,” the UHITC would incentivize patients to shop for the best value and motivate insurers to provide it, Ferrara said.

“The government is paying for the first $2,500 of the bill,” Ferrara said. “After that, it’s up to you to pay for it. You decide how much you want to devote to health insurance and how much you want to take in wages.”

No Government Mandates

The Sessions-Cassidy plan’s repeal of the ACA’s insurance mandates would free patients to buy health care plans of their choice.

“There’s no individual mandate, employer mandate, or government mandate of any sort,” Ferrara said. “The government does not tell you what health insurance you have to buy, which is one of the fundamental problems of Obamacare. President Obama said if you like your health plan, you can keep it, but with the mandate in there, it turned out to be if he likes your health plan, you can keep it.”

Criticism that $2,500 won’t cover 100 percent of a person’s health insurance plan misses the point of living in a free society, Ferrara says.

“The government should not be responsible for buying health insurance for everybody,” Ferrara said. “That is an earmark of an unfree society where people do not have control over choice, government has control over everything, the government tells you what your money’s going to pay for, and the government tells you what you get.”

Michael Hamilton ([email protected]) is The Heartland Institute’s research fellow for health care policy and managing editor of Health Care News.

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