- - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Will a couple of million fewer people predicted to lose their health insurance really change the current dynamic for Senate Republicans?

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to hope so. He is busily reworking the Senate health care bill in an attempt to achieve a better Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate on the number of Americans who could lose their health insurance coverage. But even if Mr. McConnell succeeds in lowering the CBO’s estimate by a few million, that won’t change the media narrative attacking the plan as heartless.

Instead, Republicans should demand that the CBO also report on how many Americans stand to regain their pre-Obamacare plans, their doctors and more control over their health care choices. Rather than simply pointing out how the CBO numbers may not be totally accurate and hoping people listen, Republicans should speak to those voters who were harmed — most of whom were the voters who cast ballots to retain the Republican-controlled Senate and elected a president ready to sign Obamacare-ending legislation.

According to a Weekly Standard analysis of the CBO’s own numbers, Obamacare caused 9 million Americans to lose their preferred health insurance. (Other analysis put this figure far higher.) These Obamacare victims either received a cancellation letter saying their preferred policies didn’t comply with Obamacare mandates, or were kicked off their employer-sponsored plans because of Obamacare-related expenses.

Consider the story of George Schwab. He was paying $228 per month for a health plan he was happy with before he received a cancellation letter because his plan wasn’t Obamacare-compliant. The comparable Obamacare plan was over five times the price, with a $1,208 monthly premium and a $5,500 deductible. Similar stories were the reality for innumerable other Americans.

Obamacare has left far more than just these 9 million without insurance. Currently, 49 counties in the country do not have a single insurer offering plans on the exchanges next year. How are millions who live in these counties supposed to comply with Obamacare’s individual mandate to purchase insurance if there are no insurance options available?

In addition, more than one-third of U.S. counties only have one insurer, leaving tens of millions of Americans without health care choice. Partially because of this lack of competition and partially because of the taxes, regulations and mandates in Obamacare, premiums doubled last year to $3,000 — with a $12,400 deductible — for an average Bronze Plan. Health care consumers paying these inflated prices are hardly better off under Obamacare, even if that’s what the CBO report implies.

Because the Senate bill would expand individual tax credits and Health Savings Accounts, as well as deregulate and eliminate taxes passed onto consumers, these Obamacare victims — as well as all Americans struggling under skyrocketing costs — would once again have meaningful health care choices. Once again they will be able to choose the doctor, plan and price they prefer.

To take just one example: The Senate plan would eliminate rules requiring all plans to cover fertility treatments, contraceptives, obesity screening and dozens of other coverage mandates that an average person may not need or want. This will allow more choice of plans at cheaper prices.

And by eliminating the employer mandate, the Senate plan would also address the countless employees who saw their hours and earnings cut because Obamacare required businesses to provide coverage for all employees who work 30 hours a week. Such Obamacare-induced hour cuts occurred at major American employers like Staples, Jimmy John’s and Regal Cinemas. According to an analysis at the left-wing economics blog FiveThirtyEight, “The evidence suggests that the health law has likely led a few hundred thousand workers to see their hours cut or capped.” The real number was likely much higher.

Rather than play defense on CBO estimates and one-sided reporting, Republicans can get support by shifting the focus to how their plan would help middle-class Obamacare victims who have been priced out and choiced out of health care.

• Joel L. Strom is a fellow at the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

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