Governor Jindal proposes Republican alternative to Obamacare

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to repeal Obamacare, and now he's put forward a plan to replace it. It features no individual mandate and a voucher-like program for Medicare.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal unveils his plan to replace Obamacare at a Monitor Breakfast in Washington Wednesday.

Declaring that the GOP needs to be “the party of solutions,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) offered his own health care plan to replace Obamacare at a breakfast for reporters held by The Christian Science Monitor Wednesday. It is a move that adds to his gravitas as a possible presidential candidate for 2016 – and adds to a number of Republican plans that are either already developed or in the works in Congress.

The policy-wonkish governor unveiled his plan the day after President Obama experienced an unexpected success: 7.1 million Americans signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act by the Monday deadline. Still, Governor Jindal would repeal the Obamacare in its entirety, throwing out the revenue and cost-saving aspects in addition to the benefits – unlike another possible Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin.

“The overarching theme is: Let’s lower costs. The overarching theme is: Let’s create real portability and consumer choice. The overarching theme is: Let’s protect the most vulnerable – those with preexisting conditions and those that have trouble accessing health care,” said Jindal, whose son has been diagnosed with a medical condition.

Jindal’s plan would do away with Obamacare’s individual mandate to buy insurance or pay a fine and instead focus on ways for individuals to buy more affordable health insurance.

Standout features include a $100 billion federal grant to states to subsidize premiums for low-income Americans and to guarantee care for people with preexisting conditions. The grant would be paid for with overall savings from his plan. Individuals would be allowed a standard health care deduction on their taxes – regardless of whether they get their insurance from their employer or on their own. Incentives for “health savings accounts” would be beefed up to allow such accounts to pay for insurance premiums.

Medicare – healthcare for seniors – would turn into a “premium support” system. In other words, seniors would get vouchers to choose their own plans. Medicaid, which is health care for the poor, would be moved to the states with the support of a federal “global grant” program. These ideas are similar to ones proposed by Representative Ryan Tuesday in his Republican budget plan. They would significantly change Medicare and Medicaid, but, experts say, also make them more cost-effective at a time when the national debt is about to balloon because of the costs of caring for retiring baby boomers.

Democrats lambasted the plan. "The plan Governor Jindal announced today – much like the Ryan Budget – starts by repealing Obamacare, which could result in millions of Americans being kicked off their current health care plans and bring back the worst parts of the old, failed health care system," said Michael Czin, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, in a statement Wednesday. Mr. Czin criticized Jindal for heading a state with one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country, and for refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare in his state.

Bring it on, is basically what Jindal is saying about the need for more vigorous debate, especially among Republicans. The youthful governor has considerable experience in health care, including as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. He says the Republicans must not cede issues such as health, energy, or education to Democrats, but offer solutions of their own.

That’s something he’ll be doing this year, as he rolls out proposals in these areas – and further considers his own prospects. With early favorite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie challenged by the Bridge-gate scandal, many Republicans are searching again for a candidate who has executive experience and who is not as polarizing as tea party Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas or Rand Paul of Kentucky. Talk has turned to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but Jindal is clearly moving in this direction, saying at the breakfast that “I’m absolutely biased toward governors” running for president because of their executive experience.

"It is no secret it's something I am thinking about, but right now I am focused on winning the war of ideas and also focused on winning these elections in 2014," Jindal said. "We have 36 governors races. I am always a big fan of 'let's win the election in front of us before we worry about future elections.' "

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