Trump executive order on Obamacare is "pen and phone" legislation

President Donald Trump’ s new executive order on Obamacare is “pen and phone” legislation. That’s not meant as a compliment.

The President issued an EO yesterday permitting some people go across state lines to buy health insurance. It allows the Secretary of Labor to create regulations on out-of-state health purchases, health reimbursement arrangements, and limited duration insurance. Via Axios:

Expand access to association health plans, in which a group of small employers can band together to buy insurance as a collective.

Expand access to short-term health plans. These policies don’t cover much and don’t cost much; today, you can only keep one for three months. Trump will extend that time limit to a year.

Expand the use of health reimbursement accounts, which allow employers to set aside tax-free money to help cover their employees’ health care costs. Workers will likely be able to tap that money to pay the premiums for a plan in the individual market.

Conservatives and libertarian-ish politicians have pushed for this move since Obamacare’s creation, at least in the broad strokes. The outcomes depend largely on what the bureaucrats write up in the new regulations. So it could be successful in saving consumers money on premiums, but it could also fall apart, much like Obamacare is already doing.

The reaction appears to be pretty skeptical too, depending on the outlet. Peter Suderman at Reason writes the policy has too little details, and “leaves any newly created plans susceptible to undoing by a future administration that is more hostile to the idea.” National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru believes this “deregulatory move is going to undermine universal comprehensive insurance: It’s going to make it easier for people to choose something closer to catastrophic coverage.” Chip Roy at Texas Public Policy Foundation praised the ruling because, “it has the potential to alleviate some of the pain that Americans are experiencing under this catastrophic law.”

I support letting people buy insurance across state lines, and expanding short-term health plans appears to be a decent idea. But the biggest problem I have is the fact this isn’t actual legislation created by Congress. Instead, it’s another example of executive overreach and going around the rules set forth in the Constitution — the rules conservatives and Republicans howled at Obama for slipping past, like Sidney Crosby or Tyler Seguin deking past a hockey defenseman. It’s also extremely hypocritical for anyone who believes in limited government to praise this move (looking at you Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Tim Scott), and those so-called constitutionalists probably realize it. Paul’s reaction to Trump coming up to the podium to announce the executive order probably proves this, even if Paul swears he’s in favor of it.

Yes, there are issues with Obamacare repeal legislation getting through Congress. Ponnuru suggests one reason why slaying the octopus of Obamacare is so hard is because of how dug in both sides are. He believes the GOP wants to reduce the regulatory burden, while Democrats want to get universal health care. The reality is both parties probably want to have a say in health care, it just depends on how strong of a say it is. The solution to this is getting the bums who want government control out, regardless of which party they belong. That’s easier said than done because of how many politicians like to play lip-service to the ideals of freedom and liberty, while their voting records suggest otherwise.

But Trump’s decision to use “pen and phone” legislation is wrong-headed and unconstitutional. If Republicans were actually keen on replacing Obamacare they would have gone with the legislation they passed in 2016, which Obama vetoed. Trump would also be pushing this, but this is the same Trump who once wrote he believed in a Canadian style of health care. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Trump still believes in this, but knows coming out in support would anger those who put him into office.

It still comes down to this: Trump’s move is unconstitutional and another example of executive overreach. Conservatives and libertarians should be calling him out on this, and criticizing those who are in support of this action. If it’s bad for Obama, it’s bad for Trump. Those who aren’t doing it are just hypocrites who are perfectly fine with ruling by fiat, as long as they’re the ones who are doing the ruling. Just like there are plenty of so-called small government types who are perfectly fine with the government setting rules and regulations, so long as they’re the ones doing it.

The policy change may make things easier, and reducing the regulation burden on folks in a good thing. But letting unelected bureaucrats come up with the idea, and letting a president skirt the Constitution to enable it? No thanks. I’ll stick with my ideals, thank you very much.