Darrow: Deregulation is Crucial to Healthcare Reform

Healthcare reform is one of the most crucial issues of debate in Washington, D.C. today.

After the much-anticipated Republican replacement to the Affordable Care Act failed to gain enough support from conservative and moderate lawmakers alike, many people are wondering what is next when it comes to health care reform. The health care market is in serious trouble, something needs to be done and soon- insurers are leaving and costs are rising.

No one should be celebrating the maintenance of the status quo. Premiums on the health exchanges are skyrocketing. Coloradoans shopping on the individual market saw average price increases of 20%, with some counties seeing premiums rise by more than 40% this year.

While many people shopping on the exchange receive financial assistance, 37% of those purchasing coverage on Connect for Health Colorado receive no government subsidy and pay an average monthly premium of $368 per month. Paying over $4,000 a year in premiums, in addition to other out pocket costs in the form of deductibles and co-pays, is unaffordable for most consumers.

In Colorado, United Healthcare, Humana, Rocky Mountain Health Plans and Anthem left or scaled down participation in 2017, leaving 92,000 individuals to find substitute insurance coverage. 14 of Colorado’s 64 counties now only have one insurance option. Before the ACA was implemented in 2014, each county in the state had at least 3 insurance providers.

Due to financial losses, Anthem recently announced that they will most likely leave or greatly reduce their involvement in the individual market in 2018. If Anthem were to leave the state of Colorado, 14 counties would have zero insurance options available on the health exchange.

The health care debate is far from settled. Republicans campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare. They need to follow through on that promise.

Without replacement legislation, lawmakers are faced with the question of whether to prop up a failing system or to let the individual market collapse. Neither of these are good options. Letting the market fail hurts the millions of people who are forced to purchase unaffordable coverage and pouring money and political capital into a failing system and then asking to repeal it later is not politically feasible. The only path forward is for legislators to come together now to introduce a new bill that lowers costs and increases choice.

One of the primary reasons costs have increased dramatically under the ACA is the regulatory burden the bill places on insurance companies, employers and individuals. Recent calculations from The Heritage Foundation, based on an analysis from the Milliman actuarial firm, shows that ACA regulations have increased premiums by up to 68%. The first priority in replacement negotiations should be to decrease regulations, as this is the primary way to lower costs.

New legislation will face obstacles in getting moderates, and fiscally conservative Republicans to work together, but one thing both groups can agree on is that deregulation will decrease costs and consequently improve access to health care.

While the new version of the bill is negotiated, The Department of Health and Human Services should do everything in its power to start the deregulation process. While many of the regulations on insurance companies will have to be dealt with directly through congressional action, the ACA lists over one thousand instances in which it directs the Secretary of HHS to implement a rule or regulation. This gives the department power to make regulatory changes to lower costs.

Republicans must keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. High health care costs make access to care impossible for those who need it most. Deregulation is the first step to an improved health care market. Lawmakers should work first on the things they can agree on.

It’s time for legislators to prioritize the crucial role that deregulation plays in health care reform.

Juliana Darrow is a Healthcare Policy Fellow at the Millennial Policy Center.

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