Gov. Bobby Jindal, solutions-oriented pol, carves a different path on health care

Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor and a possible candidate for president, is clearly one of the brightest minds in the Republican Party. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Gov. Jindal a few times, including when he came out to campaign with me in Spokane in 2012. I came away impressed with his intellect and communications skills, and will be keeping a close watch on what the future holds for him.

Gov. Jindal is using his expertise in health policy (he ran the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at just age 24) to articulate conservative alternatives in health care. Congressional Republicans say they want to “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare, but haven’t coalesced around an answer to the obvious question: Replace it with what? Gov. Jindal released a health care white paper last week that seeks to answer that question.

Jindal’s health care plan is full of solid ideas, but it starts from an important premise: America needs to lower the cost of health care. Republicans and Democrats were actually having productive discussions about health care reform before the 2008 presidential election, centered on the idea that health care costs too much and requires too much of America’s GDP. After 2008, the focus quickly moved away from affordability.

Jindal’s white paper highlights many intriguing ideas, including:

  • Reforming the tax preference for health care benefits. Currently, the tax preference results in employers trying to woo workers with hefty benefits packages instead of higher pay, which has added to health care inflation. It’s also unfair to those who purchase health coverage themselves – those with health care through their employer are “buying” coverage with pre-tax money, while those who buy it themselves use taxable income. Jindal calls for providing a standard deduction for all forms of health insurance, no matter how they’re purchased.
  • For those who would not benefit from a tax deduction, Jindal advocates block grants to states rather than the current Medicaid model, with specific incentives for lowering the cost of care. States would need to ensure access for those with pre-existing conditions to receive the incentives.
  • Providing greater flexibility for Health Savings Accounts. HSAs are a great approach to health care in which consumers can build up accounts dedicated to health care with pre-tax money (employers can contribute as well). This helps lower costs because consumers have incentive to spend their HSA wisely. Jindal’s plan would allow HSA spending to be more flexible, so funds could go toward currently barred plans and over-the-counter medications.
  • After many years of debate, finally allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines. Heavy-handed state-level insurance regulations that bar this practice seem about as outdated as three-tier liquor rules. Jindal also calls for allowing groups – such as trade groups, churches, and fraternal organizations – to form their own multi-state risk pools where members can purchase insurance as a group.

You can read the full white paper here to learn more. It’s not a fully fleshed-out plan yet, but that’s OK. Especially in Congress, Republicans have had a much easier time spelling out which policies they’re against than which ones they’re for. That needs to change. Jindal’s white paper is a prod to Republican Party leaders that the American people want to see solutions.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.