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Hearing Recap: Health Care Edition

Today’s Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee hearing addressed Republican solutions to rising health care costs, a top issue for workers and small business owners. 

This is the first HELP hearing of the 118th Congress. Republicans used the opportunity to chart a path forward on health care reform that cuts red tape and allows free market principles to bring costs down. In his opening statement, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) highlighted the inflationary pressures that Democrat coverage subsidies and regulations put on the private market.

“A vast majority of Americans are actually satisfied with their employer-sponsored insurance (ESI). Seventy-eight percent of employees decide to enroll in employer-sponsored insurance when given the option,” said Good. “But it’s still too expensive.”

Small businesses and employers struggle to keep up because Democrats have tipped the playing field in favor of government-controlled health care. Around 159 million Americans are covered and satisfied by ESI, so Republicans, with the help of expert witnesses, are seeking solutions that keep employee-sponsored health care intact while decreasing costs.

Republican-invited witnesses were Marcie Strouse, Partner at Capitol Benefits Group; Tracy Watts, Senior Partner at Mercer; and Joel White, President of the Council for Affordable Health Care Coverage.

Marcie Strouse offered the firsthand perspective of a small business owner struggling with skyrocketing health care costs. Underscoring the dire need for legislative action, Strouse said, “They [small business owners] are constantly worried about recruiting and retaining employees while keeping their businesses afloat, and this is particularly challenging in this environment with sustained high inflation and acute workforce shortages. Employee benefits have always been important but are even more crucial now.”

Tracy Watts touched on telehealth excepted benefits, a form of health care coverage that grew in recent years due to temporary flexibilities allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic but is now on the decline as we approach the expiration of these flexibilities on May 11. “Because of legislative uncertainty, we saw a decline in employers using this strategy – to 7 percent in 2023 from 17 percent in 2022,” said Watts. “This is a benefit that is hugely valued by employees – but employers need permanent legislation for this coverage to be restored.”

Concluding the opening testimony session, Joel White­ plainly summarized Committee Republicans’ health care goals. “I think we need to end policies that drive up costs for employers and enact reforms that drive down costs for working Americans,” declared White.

Well said.

Moving to the Q&A, Republicans took the chance to clarify a common fallacy in the health care debate: we do not live in a free market system. As Joel White pointed out, half of all dollars spent on health care comes from the federal government. Bureaucrats have inserted themselves into every aspect and area of health care imaginable. We cannot begin to address solutions without correctly describing the system.

Rep. Rick Allen (GA) helped dispel this inaccurate view of the health care system. “We have to have a private system in this country to compete with the government system. That will keep government accountable and competitive because right now it is the wild, wild west,” said Allen.

In his questioning, Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) discussed the common ground between Republicans and Democrats, a great starting point for finding health care solutions. He co-opted language typically identified with Democrats, stating, “I’d like to see universal health care. To me, that means that everyone can manage their health care expenses by having access to insurance if they want that access to insurance, hopefully at a price they can afford.”

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) proposed his solution that would bring down costs and ensure greater access to health care. It would help by deregulating small businesses and fighting back against market consolidation, a problem that both Republicans and Democrats recognize. His bill, the Association Health Plans Act, was introduced today.

“Association Health Plans are a commonsense solution that empower small employers and their employees when making health coverage decisions. By providing small businesses with greater bargaining power, it allows them to offer more quality options for workers at a better price,” said Walberg.

These innovative solutions, among many others such as reinsurance, honest billing, and self-insurance, are key to bringing health care costs down for working Americans and small business owners.

Bottom Line: Americans want affordability, and Committee Republicans have solutions.
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