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GOP Health Care Plan Aims For Universal Health Care In The Private Market

5013485Republicans in the House and the Senate on Wednesday introduced comprehensive health care legislation. In doing so they showed that as the party continues to redefine itself, it is choosing to embrace some of the principles and rhetoric that have proven successful for Democratic party.

The Patients' Choice Act, introduced today by Senators Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), adopts many of the same goals Democrats are pursuing as they continue to draw up their own health care reform bill.

The Republican plan, however, promotes very different policies.

"Universal access to affordable health care for all Americans should be guaranteed," a summary of the legislation reads. "Congress should enact a comprehensive solution that will make our health care system work for every American every time."

The bill stands little chance of progressing in the Democrat-led Congress, but it makes a clear statement that the Republican party can "emerge as the party of new ideas," as Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele said Tuesday.

While the sponsors of the bill are critical of proposals for a "system run by politicians and bureaucrats," they have opted to propose the creation of state-run health insurance exchanges.

"States should provide direct oversight of health insurers to make sure they are playing by fair rules," the summary reads.

The bill would also promote the individual health insurance market by redirecting funds that currently subsidize employer-based funds to individuals in the form of tax credits. It also focuses on reforming Medicare and Medicaid, improving preventative medicine, and legal reforms. The legislation does not include any mandate for individuals to sign up for health insurance -- something Democrats are considering.

"As a practicing physician, I have seen first-hand how giving government more control over health care has failed to make health care more affordable and accessible," Coburn, who is a medical doctor, said in a statement. "The Patients' Choice Act will provide every American with access to affordable health care without a tax increase, more debt and waiting lines."

Insurers in the state exchanges would have to offer plans that "meet the same statutory standard used for the health benefits given to Members of Congress." They would also be discouraged from "cherry-picking" patients; the bill calls for a non-profit, independent board to penalize companies who try to do so.

States would be able to join regional arrangements to increase the size of their risk pool. The could also auto-enroll citizens into plans at places like emergency rooms or the DMV, though people would not be required to enroll.

Some people could be looking for new insurance plans, however, since the Patients' Choice Act eliminates employer subsidies for providing health care. Instead, families would get tax credits of about $5,700 a year and individuals about $2,300 to buy insurance. That may not cover the cost of signing up for a private plan, as premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose to $12,680 annually for family coverage in 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The bill aims to move people out of Medicaid by directly subsidizing health care costs for low-income citizens. Pointing out that preventable diseases makes up 75 percent of total health care expenditures, the authors of the bill also call for increased investments in chronic disease prevention, including $50 million annually for increased vaccine availability.

As Republicans promote the private market, some Democrats are speaking out against the plan. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is responsible for crafting a proposal for a "public option," released a report today with the health care reform group Health Care For America Now showing that health insurance industry consolidation has resulted in a market failure.

Still, as Republicans embrace the message of "health care for all," some Democrats are also trying to tamper down the rhetoric of the left.

The newspaper Roll Call reported Monday that aides to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have asked top Democratic lobbyists to hold off on giving any public opinions on health care reform. If they do not do so, the aides reportedly said the Democratic lobbyists could be left out of future negotiations, which Baucus is leading in the Senate Finance Committee.

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