Politics & Policy

Obamacare: Low Politics, High Costs

Over the months that President Obama and the Democrats made the case for Obamacare, they continually insisted that it was a program without trade-offs. They assured the public that the almost fairy-tale scenario of insuring millions more while reducing costs could be achieved without reducing the quality of health care. In a typical statement, President Obama asserted last December that the proposed health-care plan was “deficit-neutral; it bends the cost curve; it covers 30 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.”

That pretense survived, battered but mostly intact, until last week, when a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) report found that, post-Obamacare, health-care costs are rising: The annual rate of growth is now 6.3 percent, up 0.2 percentage point.

When asked about this finding at his Friday press conference, Obama said, “Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do. . . . We didn’t think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free.”

#ad#In plain English: “You should have read the fine print.”

But there’s no mea culpa chorus coming from the left.  On the contrary, liberals have already rushed to defend the plan, declaring that it is a bargain that covers an estimated 32 million people at a reasonable expense. Even if that were true, it would not change the fact that the program was relentlessly marketed to the public on false grounds, and that the savings the program is alleged to achieve are unlikely to materialize.

As it is, CMS may be underestimating the costs — the report’s numbers rely on wobbly assumptions, the most implausible of them being that Congress will allow doctors’ Medicare payments to be cut by 23 percent in December. Considering that Congress has overridden such reductions every time they have been scheduled to happen, there is no reason to believe that this will actually occur.

The report also assumes that the excise tax will be implemented on schedule in 2018, which assumes, in turn, that future congressmen will stand up to the unions that vehemently oppose it. It assumes that the new Medicare board will cap spending — we imagine the seniors will have something to say about that.

Take all these factors together, and it looks very likely that the true annual growth of health-care costs will be even higher than currently anticipated.

And while those 32 million may in theory have health-care coverage, that is not the same thing as having access to health care. More than half of them will likely end up in Medicaid — a program with such abysmally low reimbursement rates that a growing number of doctors are simply refusing to see Medicaid patients. Access to Medicaid does not ensure access to a doctor.

The new report only confirms what a majority of Americans have suspected all along: Obamacare is a fiscal disaster that doesn’t address the spiraling cost of health care, and may end up driving it even higher. For politicians who are serious about bending the cost curve, the first step should be repealing this law, which even the president implicitly acknowledges was sold on false pretenses.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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