Texas Needs Relief Now From Obamacare
This op-ed originally appeared on the Houston Chronicle on June 27, 2017.
Do you know what 1 million Texas families spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on in 2014?
The right to spend their hard-earned dollars on something other than health insurance.
According to the IRS, 1,066,360 households in Texas paid $247.5 million in penalties under Obamacare's individual mandate in 2014. Unless Congress passes legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare soon, many of the Texans who have paid the individual mandate tax will have to do so again this year.
The good news is that Congress is getting closer every day to repealing that mandate, along with a whole host of other mandates and dictates from Washington that are standing in the way of Americans having access to quality, affordable health care. The Senate took a big step forward when it introduced a health care reform proposal on Thursday.
Under that proposal, no American will be forced to buy health insurance they don't want. Americans who don't have access to insurance through their employer would receive a tax benefit like those who do, and they'll be able to use it on a plan that works for them, not just plans approved by Washington, D.C.
Americans would not have to pay surtaxes on health insurance, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, medical devices and investment. Americans would have more freedom to save some of their hard-earned dollars tax-free for health care expenses.
These solutions are based on the principles President Trump has set out for health care.
Here are some of the other principles he's laid out: Americans with pre-existing conditions should not be denied health insurance. Medicaid, the program on which tens of millions of children, elderly Americans, disabled Americans and pregnant mothers rely for health care, should be not just protected but improved. States should have the ability to figure out how best to run their own health insurance markets and Medicaid programs.
That last point is especially relevant to Texas, which knows as well as any other state how important it is to come up with its own innovative policies.
Texas' free-market approach to policy has produced great prosperity for the people who live here. On health care, Texas already has a record of innovation, implementing a managed-care program under a Medicaid waiver that has helped control the program's costs while delivering the care vulnerable Texans need.
The Trump administration is doing what it can to provide flexibility to individual patients and to states, and has taken more than a dozen actions so far to provide relief from Obamacare. But on many issues, our administrative authority is constrained by the law we have now.
The costs of inaction are huge. Since Obamacare was implemented, health insurance premiums on the individual market in Texas have risen 82 percent - more than $2,100 per year.
With prices skyrocketing, it is no wonder that 1 million Texans paid a penalty in exchange for nothing instead of scraping together the resources to buy an Obamacare plan.
Nationally, prices are so high that fewer Americans signed up for Obamacare plans this year than the year before. Just 12.2 million Americans selected plans, down from 12.7 million last year. And many of them, due to the high cost of coverage, didn't end up following through and paying their premiums.
All in all, just 963,000 Texans actually paid for Obamacare coverage in February of this year - fewer than paid the individual mandate tax in 2014.
America's health care system has to be focused on patients' priorities and not Washington dictates - on ensuring that Americans have access to affordable, high-quality care that delivers real choices.
When millions of our fellow citizens find it so expensive to get health insurance that they actually pay to go uninsured, it's a pretty glaring sign that the system is failing patients.
That is why it is so important to repeal and replace Obamacare with a health care system that works, that really empowers individuals and families, and that lets states harness the proven power of the free market to bring down costs.
Until that happens, Texans will have to continue suffering under a failed law.
Price, M.D., is U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.