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Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.

Obamacare: It’s Still a Gateway to Single-Payer Health Care



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More than two years after the passage of Obamacare, the data overwhelmingly show the law will fail to achieve its core objectives of lowering costs and improving access. That, ironically, may have been the design. By making private insurance unaffordable for everyone, it will become available to no one. All that will be left is government-centered, government-run, single-payer health care.

Let’s look at the law’s promises that were rigged to fail.

First, supporters of the law said the law would bend the cost curve down and reduce health-insurance costs. Yet health-insurance premiums are increasing faster than before the law was passed and experts confirm costs will increase along with federal health spending.

Second, defenders of the law said the bill would massively extend health-insurance coverage. But in June the Supreme Court threw out the forced Medicaid expansion which the Congressional Budget Office originally estimated was responsible for half of new coverage under the law. And despite claims of increasing coverage, more Americans are without health coverage today than when President Obama took office.

Third, supporters claimed the law would reduce the deficit. Yet, none of the law’s gimmicks has managed to hide its true costs. One gimmick was omitting a $300 billion payment to doctors who care for seniors on Medicare. Another illusion was the promise of $70 billion in savings — half of the bill’s projected deficit reduction in the first decade — from a now-defunct long-term care program. The Congressional Budget Office’s most recent analysis shows the law is jammed with $1 trillion in tax hikes and will spend more than $1.7 trillion over the next decade.

Fourth, and most important, the law’s individual mandate was rigged to fail. Unless the law is repealed, in 2014, the new individual-mandate tax will effectively force all Americans to buy insurance. Health-insurance companies will be forced to offer coverage to virtually every American, regardless of their pre-existing condition or health status. Employers will be penalized if they do not offer health coverage. The problem is this approach will never work, which the lawmakers who backed the “public option” knew full well.

According to analysis by the Congressional Research Service, the IRS does not have the authority to enforce the individual-mandate tax. Moreover, because the tax penalty is far less than the price of purchasing health coverage and insurers are forced to cover Americans at any time, millions will choose to pay the tax and only sign up for coverage when they get sick. 

As a result, insurers will be left paying for people who are comparably older and sicker than the general population. The result is a classic death spiral where the costs of covering the insured skyrocket, discouraging even more people from buying insurance. States that have tried similar approaches have seen their costs skyrocket.

At the same time, employers will make a similar economic decision, choosing to pay a $2,000 penalty per worker, instead of paying four to ten times that for a worker’s health coverage.  As former Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen said, when employers do the math, dropping workers’ coverage “will make good financial sense.”

Many workers who are not offered coverage through their employer will be eligible for federal subsidies to buy government-approved insurance through insurance exchanges.  If workers seek health coverage through the exchange, the costs of the subsidies to taxpayers will skyrocket – likely by hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet, if workers chose to simply pay the mandate tax and go without insurance, health insurance costs will climb still further.

The scenario outlined above is not speculation but is a forecast based on current trends described by nonpartisan experts.

Taxpayers should remember that liberal Democrats — who have made “catching up with Europe” and imposing a single-payer, government-run health system on America their life’s mission — celebrated the law’s passage for a reason. For them, it was a win-win outcome. Either the law would succeed and expand government’s role in health care, contrary to their own understanding of how market-economies work, or it would fail and pave the way for single-payer health care in a politically feasible way. If the private insurance market crumbled, government could mount a rescue operation and “save” patients.

Thankfully, that future is not yet written. Lawmakers who believe patients and doctors, not politicians, should manage our health-care system have plenty of ideas on how to repeal and replace Obamacare. What we need, however, is for the American people to see the urgency of the problem and replace not just the law but the politicians who put it in place. 



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