By Ronald E. Bachman
The Georgia Legislature is about to complete its 2011-2012 session, and lawmakers have been struggling over improving educational choices, reforming the criminal justice system and lowering taxes. Missing in their deliberations, however, has been a much-needed examination of state health insurance reform.
The lack of action on health reform is surprising and disappointing, considering Georgia is a party to probably the most important case in our lifetimes: the judicial defeat and repeal of the Obama administration’s 2010 federal health care law.
If the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the summer successfully overturns the federal law, the laws governing health care insurance will return to Georgia purview. That still poses a problem: Existing Georgia laws have resulted in 1.8 million Georgians without insurance, small businesses dropping coverage, and the chances are just one in four of even having insurance for those working for a company that has fewer than 25 employees.
Georgia could still send a strong message to the U.S. Supreme Court, where hearings are scheduled March 26-28, that this state can and will provide reforms unique to Georgians’ needs. The message to the justices and the court of public opinion would be that not only is the federal reform unconstitutional but that the states are willing and able to address the problem of uninsured residents and the high cost of insurance. And they’ll do it with free-market solutions, personal responsibility, competition, choice, transparency and a level playing field for all.
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation facilitated the development of a Georgia-specific package of health reforms that could reduce the number of uninsured Georgians by more than 1 million. The opportunity exists to reduce premiums by 30-40 percent. The state could allow new product options for small employers and individuals that today are legal only for large employers. Reforms could strengthen the relationship between patients and physicians.
Among other improvements, legislators could establish a state high-risk pool for uninsurable residents and support the expansion of the Georgia charity care organizations providing volunteer, faith-based care at the local level to those uninsured residents. All this could be done, without raising income tax rates, adding assessments, charging new fees or implementing any special-use sales tax.
Even as the state considers a package of tax reforms, few would disagree that the best tax reform would be to lower the cost of insurance, create access to better care and treatments, and improve the health and productivity of all Georgians. Families without access to employer-provided health insurance could literally save thousands of dollars if these reforms are approved.
Some say it is too late in the session to pass comprehensive health reform. The good news is that legislators need not reinvent the wheel: A policy package is available, and the leaders under the Gold Dome have shown that they can do anything they put their mind to. The opportunity exists for Georgia to be more than party to the case. The state can be leader of the pack if legislators seize the final moments of the session and embrace the thoughtful reforms available. There has never been a better time to assert state control – the Tenth Amendment – and take charge of Georgia’s health-care destiny.
Ronald E. Bachman FSA, MAAA, is a Senior Fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Health Transformation, an organization founded by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Mr. Bachman worked as an outside expert with members of Congress and the Clinton administration during the 1993-94 health reform. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Foundation or the Center for Health Transformation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (March 23, 2012). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.