Congressman Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican, last week said he’s pushing for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act and favors letting insurance companies find solutions for America’s health care system.
But county health policy experts questioned whether there are enough controls in place to entrust insurance companies with so much power.
Congress is on recess until Sept. 5 and health care reform remains on a back burner after the U.S. Senate failed last month to pass a “skinny repeal” bill.
The GOP-controlled Congress plans to work on tax reform after the recess, but health care debate isn’t over, Weber said in an interview last week. Many budget and appropriations priorities Republicans have cheered depend on cuts to the Medicaid budget and repealing the Affordable Care Act, Weber said.
Weber supports a full-on repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and leaving replacement plans to be decided in the market with insurance companies most responsible, he said. Weber is in the district until Labor Day, he said.
“If the ACA were ended tomorrow, the insurance industry could come out with policies and plans quickly,” Weber said. “People wouldn’t go without.”
Weber has asserted he doesn’t believe government has a role in health care and the health care system should be based entirely on a free-market system — a plan that draws critics who argue health care and health services aren’t like other goods.
Weber wants the GOP to pass a plan repealing the Affordable Care Act and ushering in a free market system, he said. In the meantime, congressional members would meet with the insurance lobby to come up with preferred changes to the system, he said.
“You can go to a free market system for the next — choose your time frame, one month, two months, two years — until we get it all in place,” Weber said.
“What needs to happen is Congress needs to sit down with members of the insurance industry and say, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking, here’s what we’re looking at — give us a time frame. What will it take? How do we protect people in that interim?’”
Weber, who is not on the health care committee, has not met with insurance lobby, he said.
Weber’s plan has skeptics, even among Affordable Care Act critics, including a top health policy expert for the University of Texas Medical Branch.
As evidenced by repeal efforts in recent months, it would be difficult to get a majority of lawmakers behind any major overhaul to the health care system, said Ben Raimer, senior vice president for health policy and legislative affairs at the medical branch.
And Raimer questioned how letting insurance companies dictate U.S. health care policy would drive down costs. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies, along with large, private hospital systems, have been the biggest profiteers in the current system, he said.
The Affordable Care Act has had positive effects in terms of access to care, particularly in states that expanded Medicare, Raimer said. But the act has so far failed in its efforts to drive down costs, Raimer said.
Obamacare increased access to health insurance and thousands of previously uninsured Texans have purchased plans on the market, Raimer said. Although, the state could have benefited more greatly from it if it expanded Medicaid, he said.
But the Affordable Care Act has fallen short in other areas because Congress didn’t address the increasing costs of care, Raimer said.
“Healthcare reform has done nothing to reform health care costs,” Raimer said. “All it’s done is increase access to health care at the same exorbitant costs.”
Before the Affordable Care Act, hospitals and insurance companies shifted costs of treating uninsured patients who arrived largely through the emergency room by charging higher premiums to the insured, Raimer said.
The Affordable Care Act formalized that cost shifting, Raimer said. Taxpayers are still paying for the minimization of losses to insurance companies, he said.
Making health care access more affordable, either through private insurance or a single-payer public option, depends on Congress passing stricter price controls in the health care system, including on pharmaceutical companies and health care providers, Raimer said.
“Insurance companies are all about making money and turning profits for their stockholders,” Raimer said. “Unless you can provide them guidance about what they can do and what kind of policies they can write, I’m skeptical any good would come of leaving it to them.”