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Constructively Addressing the Instability of the Individual Health Insurance Market

Jack Urquhart

The individual health insurance market requires stabilizing. Without stability, it will continue to deteriorate–premiums will drastically increase, and the number of insurance companies and healthcare providers participating will continue to decrease. The “impossible dream” is a concerted, non-partisan, and constructive approach to fulfilling the promise of the individual health insurance market by improving its stability.

The individual health insurance market offers a realistic means for individuals, the self-employed and small businesses to obtain decent insurance coverage without unreasonable premiums. This market is vital to rebuilding the “middle class.”

Difficult as it is to address the individual health insurance market without casting partisan blame, this is the path–the only path–to stabilizing these markets. It must be done now as 2018 enrollment is fast approaching.

Yesterday, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate health committee, reacted uniquely to his party’s decision to pull back a vote on the repeal and replacement of the ACA. Senator Alexander simply announced that his committee would hold public hearings on stabilizing the individual health insurance markets. This is a potentially powerful statement, and one too easily drowned out by partisan anger or gloating.

A market place in which private insurance for individuals, the self-employed, and small businesses offers good coverage at affordable premium rates is achievable. To get there, every stakeholder needs to be heard and must be prepared to compromise. As importantly, the effort must be guided by problem-solvers who can rise above obstructive self-interest.

Stabilizing the individual health insurance market demands resolution of a few–but thorny–issues. For example, health insurers can not participate meaningfully in a program fraught with partisan uncertainty. Similarly, consumers can not withstand this same uncertainty. A successful program requires broad acceptance. Broad acceptance will never result from fringe ideologues.

Many have given up on health care reform, because, before that, they gave up on the government’s ability to govern. This surrender is understandable, but hopefully not entirely accurate.

When a politician, like Lamar Alexander, makes a reasonable proposal, we should wish him or her well and jump on the opportunity to meaningfully work on stabilizing the individual health insurance market. The unquestioned need for market stability is too important for us all to leave to the grand-standers in either major party who have no demonstrable ability to concretely resolve real problems, and, instead, focus primarily on advancing their own self-interest.

Senator Alexander may be playing us, but his response to “defeat” in a hard fought legislative battle is darn sure better than those grabbing the headlines.