Stephen Moore: Cruz Amendment flips a political losing strategy into a big-time winner
If his amendment stands, left's vision of a single-payer government-run health insurance will go up in smoke, Moore says
Editor’s Note: Stephen Moore is an economic adviser to Freedom Works and a CNN economic analyst. He served as a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign. The views expressed are his own.
Republicans are finally getting smart on Obamacare. It took one of the savviest Republican senators – Ted Cruz of Texas, with an assist from Mike Lee of Utah – to get the GOP to figure out how to replace Obamacare, reduce premiums, and save money for the government. And all without alienating millions of voters. But he’s pulled the Republicans’ fannies out of the fire by having flipped a political losing strategy into a big-time winner.
The Cruz amendment – which has been inserted into the GOP Senate health plan – is smart, because it doesn’t take anything away from anyone. If you want Obamacare – you can have it. You can have the coverage for the 10 “essential benefits,” you can have the subsidies and the exchanges that were supposed to save $2,500 per family. It’s still there for you.
The Cruz amendment creates what is called a “Consumer Freedom Option.” This essentially allows an “off-ramp” from Obamacare for the tens of millions of Americans who don’t want it. The “Consumer Freedom Option” allows insurers who offer Obamacare-compliant plans to offer a range of much less costly plans. In other words, it empowers people and families to pick and choose what they want in their own insurance package. Some families want and can afford blanket coverage that insures them for everything from cancer to contraceptives to drug addiction to dental care to the sniffles. If you want to pay for that coverage, go for it.
What about families or individuals with lower incomes or healthy life styles that want the other extreme? They want slimmed-down coverage that protects them from major medical expenses – a bad injury like breaking a leg, or a serious disease with costly ongoing treatments. These families may voluntarily choose to pay for more routine medical expenses, like a checkup or a visit to the dentist’s office, out of pocket. One benefit is that since more people will pay directly for medical services, they are likely to shop around for the best price, and this competition will lower prices for everyone.
In other words, the Cruz amendment is pro-choice – which I thought was one of the anthems of liberalism. Cruz told me that he believes that based on the preliminary numbers that this approach could save tens of millions of Americans as much as 30% on their health costs. That’s thousands of dollars of savings per family.
My advice for the Republicans is to start running national TV and radio ads right now with a Geico-type message. A mother is smiling as she pays the bills at the kitchen table and declares: “Hey, I just saved $5,000 on my health care thanks to Senator Cruz.”
To the left, the Cruz plan is like a cross in front of a vampire. They complain that this will destabilize the market “and [turn] the marketplaces into high-risk pools,” as Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, has put it. Insurance companies are claiming that the sick and those with pre-existing conditions will have to pay more.
That’s partly true, but it’s not the whole story. Cruz provides billions of dollars of subsidies for people who have pre-existing conditions and high medical costs. This number is much smaller than the media is saying. Cruz believes the number of people without private insurance (mostly through their employers), who don’t have adequate coverage for preexisting conditions is about 1.5 million people. Why contaminate a functioning insurance market for 300 million people, to give coverage to 1.5 million?
The Cruz plan provides protection for those 1.5 million people in exchange for giving tens of millions of Americans the freedom to choose the affordable health plan of their choice. This is America. The government should never force people to buy insurance they don’t want or can’t afford. Cruz says that the vast majority of the people in Texas who have had to pay the Obamacare penalties for not buying a plan have incomes of less than $50,000 – they are the victims of the “Affordable Care Act.”
The left prefers a system where people who want Cadillac coverage for contraceptives, dental care, substance abuse problems, etc., should be subsidized through higher premiums paid for by people who don’t want that coverage. How is that fair?
Another virtue of the Cruz plan is that if people can save money on their medical insurance by living healthier lifestyles – by exercising, stopping smoking or doing drugs, getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, watching their weight, having the right diet with less sugar – they will be rewarded with plans that offer lower premiums. This will incentivize wellness behavior, which will dramatically lower health care costs over time. The major expenses in health care are associated with diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, which are all in part a result of bad lifestyle decisions – especially obesity. So the Freedom Accounts are tied to a concept liberals have come to hate – individual responsibility.
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And now for the real genius of the Cruz plan. If his amendment stands, the left’s grand vision of a single-payer government-run health insurance dystopia will go up in smoke for good. The left wants everyone in the same insurance boat. No choice. No competition in plans. But once people are given the right to choose the health plan that is affordable to them and tailored to their individual needs, they will resist single-payer, one-size-fits-all insurance. It doesn’t take a village to buy a health plan.
If the GOP is smart enough to rally behind the Cruz amendment, and health costs and premiums start falling almost immediately, we will start to have what Obamacare never delivered: affordable care. And by the way, Trump will get reelected in a landslide and so will congressional Republicans.