This opinion article originally appeared in The Caller Times
One of the main reasons I ran for Congress in 2010 is I knew the government takeover of health care under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was going to be a disaster. I’ve been proven right. Despite then-President Obama’s promise that it would lower insurance rates and “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” we’ve seen insurance costs and deductibles skyrocket and the choice of plans diminish to the point where in many counties today there is only one expensive option offered.
I’ve voted more than 65 times to repeal, replace or modify Obamacare. In this year’s Congress I am a co-sponsor of legislation by both Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that repeals Obamacare and, after being asked personally by President Trump, I’ve agreed to support the plan he backs, the American Healthcare Act.
My friends on the right and in the Tea Party say the AHCA doesn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare. My friends on the left say it goes too far. Both sides have good arguments. As a conservative I lean more toward the right and believe that the AHCA should end programs sooner, spend less money, open the insurance market to more competition and actually legislatively repeal the 8,000-plus pages of Obamacare regulations. I also think it should contain assurances that better protect our most vulnerable and those with pre-existing and chronic conditions.
One thing I’ve learned, however, is in Congress, as in most of life, the perfect is usually the enemy of the doable.
The plan that President Trump has asked me to support is far from perfect, but I believe it’s doable. It goes a long way toward repealing Obamacare. The entire plan is actually a three-step process. The AHCA is the first step that uses a procedural process called budget reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes to pass in the Senate. Normal legislation takes 60 votes.
The catch is 51-vote reconciliation only applies to budgetary matters like taxing and spending, so that limits what can be included. Fortunately, reconciliation is broad enough to include things like health savings accounts, block grants that empower states to deal with Medicaid and other issues associated with those in need. Unfortunately, doing away with the taxes and penalties associated with Obamacare helps but doesn’t solve all the problems.
Step two delegates Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price the authority to further improve the health care system, by dealing with the remaining parts of Obamacare left intact after passage of the AHCA. Secretary Price has promised to fix the problems driving up insurance costs by changing regulations. In a perfect bill, these regulations would be enacted into law. But again, we are looking at what’s doable, not what’s perfect.
The third step is to pass various pieces of legislation allowing for the sale of health insurance across state lines, permitting associations to offer plans, reforming our medical malpractice system and much more. In fact, the House is expected to pass two bills in phase three this week: The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (H.R. 372) that repeals antitrust exemptions for health care insurance providers, and The Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 1101) that allows small businesses to band together in associations to have more negotiating power and buy insurance across state lines. I expect to see many more phase-three bills pass the House. This is in keeping with Republican’s promise to fix health care in individual easy-to-understand pieces, not one massive 2,000-page legislation that few people even read.
Passing step one is critical to the other steps, especially step three. In order to get the reforms passed in step three, it will require Democrat votes in the Senate. The plan is once the financial part of Obamacare is repealed, the Democrats will realize they need to work with Republicans to lower costs and improve care. Further, in 10 states where Democratic senators are up for re-election, Donald Trump won by double digits. I expect to see him working hard on these phase-three bills in those states. Unfortunately today, those who want to keep Obamacare are emboldened to oppose everything because nothing has yet changed with the law and Republicans have not united around the president’s plan.
The Republican promise to pass the repeal and replacement of Obamacare has always been to do so in a step-by-step, bite-sized approach.
Realistically, the only hope to replacing Obamacare is to pass a plan the president supports. The AHCA is that legislation.
I’m a man of my word, I promised to repeal Obamacare, so that’s why I’m voting for the AHCA and will continue to fight to improve this bill and pass the reforms still to come in phase three.
U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, represents Texas Congressional District 27.