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Republicans are sick of people saying they don’t have an alternative to Obamacare.

They have plenty!

And not just, “Don’t get sick! And if you do get sick, die quickly,” as Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said in 2009.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives just hasn’t voted on even one Obamacare alternative because it’s hard to fit stuff in when you only work 28 hours a week and have to squeeze in all those Obamacare repeals.

But they’re going to fix that problem in 2014, says Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).

The congressman has introduced his Obamacare alternative — the Empowering Patients First Act — three times since 2009. Price’s bill has never been given a vote, even though it has 50 co-sponsors, including the eminent Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Price told Fox News that after the first of the year, Republican leaders are going to bring forth a bill that will “unite Republicans around health care issues” because “you can’t beat something with nothing.”

This logic runs contrary to Town Hall‘s Conn Carroll, who believes the House GOP won’t coalesce around one plan or, as he calls it, “a villain to run against.”

This has been the GOP strategy since 2010, and don’t expect it to change, despite the assurances the leadership has given to Rep. Price.

Price’s bill has never been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But a former Republican head of the CBO scored it independently and found that it saves trillions of dollars over 10 years and will reduce the uninsured population by 29 percent by 2016.

If this is true, why haven’t Republicans even put it up for a vote?

A quick look at H.R. 2300, the current version of Price’s bill, shows you why the GOP likely won’t propose an alternative to Obamacare — ever.

The bill starts off with Republicans’ favorite health care distractions — tort reform and selling across state lines.

If you eliminated every malpractice claim in America, that would only reduce the costs of our health care system by 1 to 1.5 percent — far less than implementing a public option.

Selling insurance over state lines would just give insurers the chance to sell plans from the state with the fewest regulations. The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein looked at a CBO report on a bill from 2005 that would have made national sales of state insurance plans possible and found “the legislation would not change the number of insured Americans or save much money, but it would make insurance more expensive for the sick and cheaper for the healthy, and lead to more healthy people with insurance and fewer sick people with insurance.”

The real goal of Price’s bill and just about every Republican reform of the health care system is to end the employer-provided health insurance dynamic that most Americans rely upon. Employers get a generous tax break for providing health coverage that Price would then extend to individuals. The 2009 version of his bill did this in a way that would actually have resulted in a huge tax increase.

But the bigger problem with Price’s plan to sever the employer-employee health insurance relationship and create plans that stay with an individual for life is that it would end up in cancelations of current plans — tens of millions of cancelations.

Republicans could argue that these new plans would be better than the existing plans for various reasons — but that’s an argument they know doesn’t work, because they crushed it when Democrats used it to defend the cancelations that happened after the implementation Obamacare.

Price says his plan would cover people with pre-existing conditions, though it doesn’t include an individual mandate or any incentive to prevent insurers from cherry-picking the healthiest consumers.

“In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California,” Klein noted. “Price isn’t learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.”

The biggest problem with Price’s bill is how it reforms existing public health care programs.

If H.R. 2300 became law, anyone could opt out of Medicare or Medicaid and receive a voucher to purchase private insurance.

We have no idea how many people would opt out of Medicare given the fact that few private insurers see people over 65 as the path to prosperity for their business. But when the growth of Medicare costs is far below that of private insurers, all that voucher would end up being is a ticket to pay far more for health care at the time of your life when it will cost you the most.

And if too many beneficiaries opted out, the entire system of dictating costs to providers in exchange for volume could collapse with devastating effects to our deficit and debt.

The worst part for Republicans is the facet of the law that allows Democrats to make a pretty simple case against the GOP’s Obamacare alternative: It ends Medicare as we know it. The GOP could rebut that assertion by saying that Medicare will still exist for those who want it, but a party that has been shedding senior support all year doesn’t want to have that argument.

Any alternative the GOP proposes to replace Obamacare is going to spark negative headlines — even if the GOP manages to evade the tax increases, cancelations and potential problems for Medicare that exist in Price’s bill.

If the Republican leadership makes the mistake of offering an alternative, they’ll dull the sting of their attacks on Obamacare by having to defend some version of a plan they were wise enough to sit on for years.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr


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