Every GOP candidate for president will run on repealing Obamacare. They will joust for the distinction of being the competitor who most dislikes the law. But for now, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the only top 2016 contender to offer a concrete alternative. He writes:

First, we should provide an advanceable, refundable tax credit that all Americans can use to purchase health insurance. The value of these credits should increase every year, and we should set the tax preference for employer-sponsored insurance on a glide path to ensure that it will equal the level of the credits at the end of the decade. This will prevent large-scale disruptions and reform one of the most significant distortions in our tax system.
Second, we must reform insurance regulations to encourage innovation. Americans with pre-existing conditions should be able to find coverage through their state’s federally-supported, actuarially-sound high risk pools. Americans living in high-cost states should have the opportunity to purchase coverage across state lines. Consumer-centered products like health savings accounts should be expanded. And under no circumstances should taxpayers be asked to bail out an insurance company that loses money, as is currently the case under ObamaCare.
Third, we must save Medicare and Medicaid by placing them on fiscally sustainable paths. Without reforms, these programs will eventually cease to be available for those that need them. I believe we must move Medicaid into a per-capita cap system, preserving funding for Medicaid’s unique populations while freeing states from Washington mandates. Medicare, meanwhile, should be transitioned into a premium support system, empowering seniors with choice.

In his book American Dreams, Rubio makes clear he favors an eventual phase-out of the exclusion for employer-provided health-care plans while transitioning everyone to a tax credit system. “This would ensure the creation of a vibrant individual healthcare insurance marketplace while avoiding disruptions to the health insurance plans that people currently receive from employers.” (p. 124) The effort to shift from third-party payers to a system in which health-care users are encouraged to shop for value is an essential part of controlling health-care costs, one that remains largely absent in the Obamacare system.

The plan is quintessentially conservative — abhorring compulsion (i.e. no mandates on employers or employees), eliminating the myriad of taxes found in Obamacare and  doing away with top-down regulation (no requirement to have a fixed list of benefits) while elevating personal choice and free market competition. It is not the only conservative alternative to Obamacare, but Rubio should get credit for putting his idea out there.

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On everything from health care to taxes to national security, the question all candidates should be forced to answer is: Other than being against what President Obama is for, what’s your plan? The Republican presidential contest is not about electing a conservative talk show host or pundit, but about finding a potential president who presents viable conservative solutions to problems voters care about. Candidates who offer nothing more than one-liners or general critiques of the liberal welfare state should be pressed to spell out what they are offering. For candidates who are or have served as governor, they need to tell us not only of their successes but which of these are translatable to the national stage and what shape their national agenda would take.

This is not only a matter of full-disclosure and a way to measure how seriously they adhere to conservative principles; it is also a way of assessing how likely they are to win acceptance for their ideas beyond the GOP. If the ideas are far-fetched or if a candidate lacks particulars or the persuasive ability to sell his or her ideas, chances are that candidate won’t be elected, or if he or she is, won’t be able to garner widespread support for a list of preferred policies. It’s not enough, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) did in his announcement spiel, to ask conservatives to “imagine” a conservative nirvana; it is incumbent on each candidate to explain where we should head, how we are going to get there and why he or she is the one to get elected and deliver on the list of conservative goals.

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