Herman Cain Stumbles Again, This Time On Health Care

After spending the previous weeks stumbling over contradictory responses to sexual harassment allegations, Herman Cain’s campaign must have decided the candidate didn’t have enough to be embarrassed about. This is the only explanation for his poorly constructed health care plan.

Cain should be embarrassed by the health care plan published on his website this month for two reasons. First, it lacks substance. He spends half of the proposal’s four short paragraphs denouncing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as “health deform” and offering the tired GOP promise to “repeal and replace.” Then he offers a paltry three-point plan calling for tort reform, health savings account (HSA) deregulation, and tax deductibles for health insurance premiums.

This leaves the reader wondering where to find the rest of the plan. Alas, there is no page two. Evidence supports Cain’s three proposals — the medical malpractice system needs fixing, and changes to HSA limits and the tax code could increase health care consumerism — yet no evidence supports the idea that these changes alone will suffice. Nudging trial lawyers and insured wage earners will help, but fixing the tangled American health care system requires applying carrots and sticks to many other vested players. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrinch understands this. His multi-point plan shows a grasp of the concerted effort needed to reform health care.

Cain’s plan is also an embarrassment because it fails to meaningfully address health care costs. Tort reform will not cut spending enough to make a difference without other controls, and increasing health care consumerism will only shift the increasing burden of health care costs from employers to individuals. Cain’s final sentences allude to cost control through “free market health care reforms” stuck in congressional committees, but this is vague and can be dismissed. 

Omitting an effort to constrain health care costs is not only embarrassing, but also a tactical error. Lack of strong spending brakes in the ACA is one of the law’s shortcomings and should be emphasized by Cain and other GOP candidates looking to unseat the president who signed the bill. While Cain remains silent on health care costs, Romney has attempted to address the issue with his health care issue brief.

Perhaps expecting Cain to offer more than a few steps on the party line is naive. He did paint himself into a conservative corner with a “no exceptions” stance on abortion. Nevertheless, expecting a nuanced plan from a Republican candidate versed in employer-sponsored insurance is fair. A former corporate chief with demonstrated experience navigating this complex and expensive component of the American health care system should have insight on how to improve things.

Unfortunately for Cain, he missed an opportunity to demonstrate his insight. Instead of offering a considered, cost-conscious health care plan, he slapped together an embarrassingly thin proposal that ignores the quickening pace of health care spending. Cain currently leads the GOP field but if health care plan strength correlates with poll results his embarrassing effort will put him on the same downward path as another previously popular candidate who offered a poor health care plan.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Sam Wertheimer

Sam works as a research assistant in the health group at a a non-partisan think tank. He graduated from Stanford in 2007 and received an MPH from The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in 2009. Opinions expressed here are his own.

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