Obamacare didn’t get mentioned until near the end of the president’s State of the Union address, but when the president did get around to talking about it, the content of what he said was predictable. He attempted once again to justify a full government takeover of American health care on the basis that the new law is already providing vital new insurance protections to Americans. There were the obligatory anecdotes of people who, the president says, have already been protected by these new insurance rules.
Framing what Obamacare does in this way is misleading in the extreme. For starters, despite the impression the president is trying to create, Obamacare hasn’t banned pre-existing condition clauses from insurance plans yet. That doesn’t happen until 2014. So, as of today, there are still millions of Americans with such conditions who are uninsured, and Obamacare is doing nothing for them. The new “bridge” high-risk-pool program that is intended to help those with pre-existing conditions get coverage until the “big bang” reforms of 2014 has been an abysmal failure so far. Enrollment is anemic because the program is poorly designed, with premiums that are too high and unpredictable to attract subscribers. As of last month, there were only 8,000 people signed up with the program. The president and his team have drawn many of their anecdotes of “early beneficiaries” from this incredibly small pool of people, but the truth is that this aspect of the new law is more an indictment of its failings than a proof of its virtues.
The president would like the public to think that Obamacare is mainly about new insurance rules, which is why he now calls it “health-insurance reform.” But, of course, that’s not really an accurate description of Obamacare. It’s a massively expensive government takeover of American health care. It will spend trillions, raise taxes and premiums, and lead to inferior-quality care. It will disrupt insurance coverage for millions of people. The federal government will become the choke point for all major resource-allocation decisions in the health sector.
Based on what he said last night, the president would seem to be willing to jettison just about everything else in Obamacare — the entitlement expansions, the exchanges, the Medicare cuts, the taxes, the new long-term-care insurance program — so long as new insurance rules to remove lifetime caps and allow 26-year-olds to stay on their parents’ plan are retained. Perhaps Republicans should take him up on it.