This morning on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), Chairman of the House Republican Conference, underscored his rather elementary understanding of health care issues. During the appearance, Pence suggested — as he has in the past — that Americans should purchase insurance across state lines, like all federal employees who purchase their coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). Moments later, Pence condemned government-run health insurance exchanges:
Republicans believe that in addition to tort reform what we should allow Americans to do is to purchase health insurance the way members of Congress can, the way all federal employees can and that is to buy health insurance across state lines to get out there and allow new insurance products to be created in a new competitive marketplace…even the private insurance elements in the Exchanges, you know, are essentially government controlled and government dictated.
Pence’s inconsistency aside, members of Congress don’t cross state lines to shop for health insurance. They purchase their coverage from a national exchange-like program in which the competition of private insurers is closely regulated. In fact, if insurers in the government-run FEHBP operated in the kind of “new competitive market place” that Pence envisions, many elected officials would have trouble affording or even qualifying for health insurance coverage.
Private insurers participating in FEHBP cannot deny coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions, charge exorbitant out of pocket fees, rescind coverage or discriminate based on gender or age. In Pence’s “new competitive marketplace,” insurers could usurp the consumer protection laws of their respective states and would have little incentive to continue doing business under certain state rules which require companies to follow the rules of the FEHBP; instead, they would “compete” for the youngest and healthiest Americans and exclude sicker patients.
Over the last three years, insurance companies operating in the individual market denied coverage to 12.6 million Americans and under Pence’s reforms, they could exclude far more ‘non profitable’ customers from coverage. Companies would charter in states with scarce regulations, and will no longer have to provide mental health parity, cancer screenings, or abide by regulations that limit the rates that can be charged to higher-cost consumers and that limit who can be excluded for a health plan. Insurers operating in these unregulated states would offer bear bones coverage to attract younger and healthier Americans, leaving states with greater consumer protections — and more comprehensive plans — with a sicker risk pool and higher costs.
When asked which parts of the House bill he favors, Pence, who has previously said that every member of Congress should read the health bill “thoroughly,” was unable to recall any other provision in the 1018 page bill besides the 12 pages devoted to the public option.