Those outside groups and interested parties who have held their fire in the health-care debate while waiting for the details to emerge — well, there really is no excuse now. Everyone should know what is coming.
On Tuesday, President Obama sent a letter to Senators Kennedy and Baucus outlining what kind of bill he wants and will support. And what he wants is a government takeover of American health-care, plain and simple.
Sure, the letter’s only three pages long (that constitutes a “plan” in this administration). But it was probably written to give the senators some political cover for the more controversial provisions they plan to pass, and thus it contains just enough coded language to confirm that all involved are planning to hand full control over American health-care to the federal government.
For starters, President Obama unequivocally endorses the creation of a new government-run insurance option for working age Americans and their families. For weeks, Senator Baucus has hinted that, well, maybe such an option isn’t necessary. That led many on the left to put pressure back on Democrats in Congress to deliver what they had promised — or else. With the president’s re-endorsement of the idea (he supported it during his campaign), it is now inconceivable that the Democrats won’t include a heavily price-controlled government-run plan in the bill they try to pass.
The Obama letter also endorses a so-called “individual mandate” — a requirement that everyone enroll in some kind of insurance or pay a penalty. During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama made a big deal of opposing this idea — which was the centerpiece of Senator Hillary Clinton’s reform agenda. Now, however, he has flip-flopped — as Politico reported — and endorsed it, so long as “hardship” cases are exempt.
The individual mandate has long been accepted orthodoxy among most Congressional Democrats. For them, the real goal is to be able to say they passed “universal coverage,” and the only way they can say that they did is if they make those who would opt out enroll in something anyway.
Moreover, the individual mandate is the excuse for everything else they want to do. The government can’t make people buy insurance if they can’t afford it, so there needs to be an expansive new health-insurance entitlement program (Sen. Kennedy’s outline would allow everyone up to 500 percent of the poverty line qualify). And if there’s a mandate, the government must define what qualifies. And on and on.
The primary obstacle in the way of rapid passage of the emerging Democratic plan remains cost. The bill will be enormously expensive, at a time when the federal government is already running massive budget deficits. Despite all of the talk of “bending the cost curve,” the Democrats have offered nothing that would put a dent in rising costs. And many rank and file Democrats are likely to balk at Senatir Baucus’s push to tax employer-paid premiums.
So what’s their way out? A gimmick, of course.
The Obama letter floats the idea which has been making the rounds among Democrats for weeks. Instead of making tough budgetary choices themselves, they are now hoping they can simply require some unelected, unaccountable advisory group — the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac) — to find the savings for them.
This is the worst of all possible worlds. Call it the black box of government-driven rationing of care. MedPac — or any other federal agency for that matter — would be working from the same laundry list of price-controls and fee cuts that Congress has always used to try to control costs in governmental health programs. The idea that somehow an existing or new agency will discover new ways to painlessly reduce costs is a fiction. They would end up doing what every other government around the world has done — impose artificial cost limits on providers of services, which will reduce the number of willing suppliers and lead to waiting lists and queues.
Perhaps in this sense President Obama’s letter is a blessing. It is now much clearer how the Democrats plan to impose bureaucratic rationing of care on the public. This should become the basis for determined opposition, inside and outside of Congress.