Bobby Jindal isn’t as close to announcing a run for president as some of his other would-be GOP rivals, but that hasn’t kept the Louisiana governor out of the news. In recent weeks, Jindal has spoken out on terrorism (he says, contra Obama, Islam “has a problem”), vaccines (he’s unequivocally for them), and Common Core (he’s now against it).
But it’s Jindal’s leap this week into the Republican debate on what to do about Obamacare that has conservative Washington buzzing. In an op-ed for Politico Sunday, Jindal argued for repealing the health care law and replacing it with a set of market-oriented provisions aiming to bring down costs. He also called out other Republican and conservative Obamacare replacement proposals as being “Democrat lite” and “Obamacare lite.” Jindal sounded the same note at a Thursday speech in Washington. Here’s an excerpt:
Right now you’ve got an attempt by many in this city to say: “Well you can’t really repeal Obamacare. Never mind all the rhetoric. Never mind all the promises we made on the campaign trail. Now it’s time to govern. It would just be too difficult to get rid of all the tax increases and all the spending and the new entitlement program. It would be too disruptive.”
Jindal’s target here, as Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out in Bloomberg View, are a couple Obamacare replacement proposals—the Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan, chiefly, but also the 2017 Project’s plan—that address the issue of what to do with the newly insured after the law is repealed. Burr-Coburn-Hatch and the 2017 Project suggest tax credits as a more conservative and politically palatable way to make sure the newly insured do not lose their coverage.
But to Jindal, tax credits such as these are “Obamacare lite.” In Jindal’s plan, following the repeal of the law, the tax break employers enjoy for providing health insurance for their employees would be eliminated. Instead, Americans would have the options of a tax deduction that could be used to purchase insurance. It’s a more purely conservative solution, he aruges.
But Jindal's critics say it's “too disruptive.” So after his Washington speech, I asked him, under his plan, would people currently insured by their employer’s plan be allowed to keep their plans?
“Absolutely, if somebody wanted to do that,” Jindal said. “But the point is to give them more choices. The point is, our plan truly replaces and repeals all of Obamacare. All the tax increases, all the spending increases, all the regulations, not just a little bit of it.”
I asked again, to be sure. People would be able to keep their plan if they like it? “Absolutely,” Jindal said. “If people wanted to use their standard deduction to pay for insurance through their employers, they could do that, but they don’t have to. They could also use it through other purchasing mechanisms as well.”
Beyond being a statement of policy preference, the public fight against Washington Republicans over Obamacare alternatives is a nice arrow in Jindal’s quiver for a hypothetical presidential primary debate. “Do you support full repeal, or do you want Obamacare lite?” he might ask his fellow candidates.
The problem, say critics of Jindal’s plan, is two-fold. First, tax deductions are generally a tool for wealthier Americans and aren’t as commonly used by the Americans who would need a health insurance deduction the most. Second, as Ponnuru notes, “some of those now covered by their employers would find their plans threatened as younger and healthier employees used the new deduction to leave those plans for the individual market.”
As Jindal says, a person certainly could stay with their employer’s insurance—if his employer’s plan still existed.