Will Oklahoma Republicans reduce regulation, increase selection in health insurance?

THERE are reports Congress may soon take another stab at health care reform. Instead of overhauling the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, the proposal may now instead encourage states to seek waivers opting out of the ACA’s many mandates.

In theory, that would mean liberal states would be more likely to stick with the Obamacare status quo while Republican-controlled states would be more likely to consider free-market reforms.

Admittedly, it’s an open question whether Oklahoma’s Republican-dominated Legislature would actually take that step, based on lawmakers’ reluctance to pass a bill this year that would have allowed the sale of policies that don’t include all benefits mandated by state politicians (in addition to those mandated by federal law).

Critics said Oklahomans could not be trusted to buy sufficient insurance coverage if mandate-lite policies were available. Yet new research again suggests that the mandate-heavy approach mostly generates higher prices, not better health outcomes.

A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed the past two years of Obamacare-era data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual medical survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The paper’s takeaway: “No statistically significant effects on risky behaviors or self-assessed health emerge for the full sample.”

The NBER paper did find people had increased access to health care upon gaining coverage through Obamacare, but that there was no real improvement in broad health outcomes.

Writing at The Federalist, health policy analyst Charlie Katebi says that conclusion isn’t surprising, because it’s in line with prior research.

When Oregon expanded its Medicaid program via lottery in 2008, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined the health outcomes of those who gained coverage versus similar counterparts who did not. Once again, Medicaid coverage led to increased use of medical services, such as doctor visits, but few improvements in overall health status. “Medicaid enrollees even visited the emergency room more frequently,” Katebi writes.

Similarly, the Rand Corporation released a study as far back as 1982 that examined the health of patients with comprehensive insurance compared with those who had only high-deductible catastrophic coverage.

“After 11 years of observations, Rand discovered that patients with comprehensive Obamacare-like coverage consumed 20 to 30 percent more routine healthcare services,” Katebi writes. “Yet their health was no different than those with catastrophic coverage.”

State lawmakers should seize the opportunity to reduce government red tape and increase consumer selection in health insurance markets. Oklahomans shouldn’t have their personal judgment about their personal needs replaced by the views of far-off politicians with no knowledge of a family’s specific circumstances.

Elimination of many insurance mandates will not mean those benefits won’t be included in any insurance policy. It merely means consumers will have a choice in coverage options — and price.

When politicians pile mandate upon mandate on consumers, research shows the increase in price is not offset by better health. Achieving the same outcomes at a much higher cost is not a sign of success.

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