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Obamacare is on the 'verge of collapse.' It's time for Congress to pass health-care reform

If a house is on fire, you do not wait for it to burn to the ground before trying to save the family trapped inside. The situation we face today with Obamacare is no different: It is on the verge of collapse, buckling under the weight of its own toxic mix of mandates and regulations, and many of our fellow Americans are trapped inside.

This crisis will not resolve itself — it is only getting worse, and America's families can't wait any longer. Do we have the courage to do what's right for the American people?

For the 535 members of Congress, who were elected to serve their fellow citizens, there should be no doubt about it: The time to act is now. To look at the failures in our health-care system today — to see the individuals, families, and businesses squeezed by soaring premiums, sky-high deductibles, and dwindling choices — and arrive at any other conclusion is an exercise in willful blindness.

The statistics tell the story that we know all too well. Since Obamacare's central rules took effect, premiums for individual market plans have doubled. At the same time, insurance coverage rates have fallen far short of predictions. The Congressional Budget Office had projected that 23 million Americans would be enrolled in the law's healthcare exchanges this year; the reality is that the number of Americans currently enrolled is less than half that estimate.

Patients increasingly don't have a choice of insurers, either. In one-third of all counties in America, there is only one insurance company participating on the exchanges; in another 37 percent of counties, there are just two. The situation is especially acute in rural areas, where prices are high and access to care is already a struggle.

One of the many fatal conceits of Obamacare is that a health-care system serving more than 300 million people spread across 50 diverse states can be micromanaged from a small group of rule writers and regulators in the nation's capital. History teaches us that attempting to impose such centralized command-and-control leads to calamitous results: costs go up, quality goes down, choices dwindle, innovation stalls, and all but those who can afford to get around the failing system suffer the consequences.

"Staying the course is not a viable option. Obamacare is in a death spiral, as insurers continue to limit choices and raise prices. We know how this story ends."

So, trying to run America's health-care system through Washington, D.C., was always bound to fail. And fail it did. But it's not enough just to talk about Obamacare's failures. We need to fix them.

Thankfully, the legislation moving through Congress right now — the American Health Care Act — will begin to do just that.

The bill will repeal the foundation and most corrosive elements of the current healthcare law and, more importantly, take power out of Washington and give it back to patients and doctors, while providing tens of billions of dollars in additional federal help for patients with pre-existing conditions. The AHCA will cut back the current law's crushing regulations and taxes, provide a portable credit for Americans who don't get insurance through their job to buy their own plan, and empower states to run Medicaid in a way that ensures their most vulnerable citizens can access high-quality health care.

An important addition to the AHCA will give power and flexibility back to state governments by enabling them to address the diverse needs of their unique populations — from cancer patients to children battling rare diseases. This policy of decentralizing authority over healthcare has long been a goal of Republicans, but it is based on the insight – gleaned from experience, not partisan ideology — that the people closest to a problem are best equipped to fix it.

Some opponents of the American Health Care Act claim the bill weakens protections for patients with a pre-existing condition. This is nonsense. The plan is clear: Nobody will be denied coverage for being sick. Any state seeking a waiver from Obamacare's regulatory regime, so that insurance providers can consider health status when crafting policies, must first have in place a system to provide better coverage for older and sicker patients. Freed from the current system's coercive mandates, insurers would finally be able to bring down costs for all patients, including those with pre-existing conditions.

Staying the course is not a viable option. Obamacare is in a death spiral, as insurers continue to limit choices and raise prices. We know how this story ends. Just yesterday another major insurer announced that it will pull out of Virginia. To the south in Tennessee, every single insurance provider has pulled out of the individual market in 16 counties that 1.1 million Americans call home. Unless we act now, Tennessee's story will become America's story, and tens of millions of Americans — including those with pre-existing conditions — will be pushed out of the health-care system.

This is our chance to provide families all across America the relief they so desperately need. The American Health Care Act will begin to move the American health-care system to a place it hasn't been in decades: a system where patients and doctors can freely reach arrangements that work for them and competition expands choices while driving down costs.

This is what the American people have been waiting for. And now, it's time for Congress to deliver.

Commentary by Tom Price is the Secretary of the U.S. Health & Human Services department.

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