By Ryan Ellis
One of the best conservative elements of Obamacare repeal in general and the House-passed “American Health Care Act” in particular is the repeal of the twenty new or higher taxes in Obamacare, totaling nearly $1 trillion over a decade. This tax relief has come under fire in recent days by left wing columnists, crony capitalist in chief Warren Buffett, late night talk show host and nouveau health policy expert Jimmy Kimmel, and even Republican senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Republican Members of Congress in town halls across the country are, to put it mildly, having to gird their loins and sharpen their talking points when it comes to health care. Everyone needs to be on board for what will be a very tough policy fight, or we endanger losing the tax relief component of Obamacare repeal, which in turn would make tax reform far less likely.
Now would be a very bad time for Republicans working on Obamacare repeal to start opening up other divisive fronts on health policy. It’s an even worse time to do so while helping out Democrats at the same time, but that’s exactly what’s happening in the parochial area of federal regulation of hearing aid-type devices.
In March of this year, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced S. 670, the “Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017.” This legislation would, for the first time, subject over the counter (OTC) hearing aids to FDA regulation. Prescription hearing aids are already regulated by the FDA, but S. 670 would expand this to the OTC variety. Currently, states are the primary regulator of OTC hearing devices. More federal regulation of these devices is likely to do what all federal regulation tends to do–limit consumer choice and access. The correct conservative policy outcome is to leave regulation of such matters at the lowest practical level of government, the states.
Why is Senator Warren involved in this (and also Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, also of Massachusetts and chief sponsor of the House version of the bill)? One might suggest it has something to do with the lobbying efforts of the Bose Corporation, an audio device company that just happens to be based out of Framingham, Mass. Nationalizing regulation of these hearing assistance products would pave the way for a large company like Bose to dominate OTC sales overnight, as state regulations get pre-empted by a one-size-fits-all FDA regulatory regime.
The Senate HELP Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday of this week on the subject of FDA reauthorization. S. 670 will come up as a topic of conversation. Common sense and conservative principals dictate this hearing should be the end of these conversations.
Correctly, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)has said he wants to keep FDA reauthorization bipartisan and non-controversial. That’s the right call, since so much is at stake in the much bigger health care fight on Obamacare repeal (not the least of which is tax relief for millions of Americans). Now is not the time to do a controversial favor for Senator Warren, who is a top challenger to President Trump in 2020. Best to leave this issue alone and focus political capital where it belongs, Obamacare repeal.
The best way to help people with over the counter health needs is not to nationalize the regulation of a consumer product like this. Rather, it’s to strike down the “medicine cabinet tax” as part of Obamacare repeal. Before Obamacare, families could purchase over the counter medicines on a pre-tax basis from their health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA), or deduct the cost as a medical itemized deduction on their taxes. Obamacare limited these pre-tax purchases by requiring a prescription to go along with the medicine. That’s the true OTC burden for consumers in health care today, not a crony capitalist inspired federal regulatory power grab by Elizabeth Warren and Joe Kennedy.
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