Critical Condition

It’s about Jobs

The spike showing that nearly 51 million people were uninsured at some point last year is alarming but not surprising; it is another reflection of the recession and the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate.

The Census Bureau reported Thursday that 4 million more people were uninsured in 2009 than in 2008, when 47 million lacked coverage. The biggest drop was in the number of Americans with employer-sponsored coverage, which fell by 6.6 million last year — part of a continuing trend. Also as part of a continuing trend, the number of people on taxpayer-supported health-care programs, especially Medicaid, increased.

Because health insurance is so closely tied to employment in the U.S., when people lose their jobs, they lose their health insurance. It doesn’t need to be this way: If people were to own and control their own health insurance with fairer, more transparent, portable tax subsidies, as we advocate, it wouldn’t be.

The latest unemployment figures show nearly 15 million people are currently unemployed, and millions more are unemployed but have given up looking for work.  This is the primary cause of rising uninsured rates. From the beginning, voters said the real issue they wanted Washington to focus on was jobs. More and more people are losing jobs, losing health insurance, losing their homes, and falling into poverty. This is a huge economic issue, and the new uninsured rates are further evidence of it.

Nonetheless, the question journalists are asking is whether we should accelerate health “reform” because of the rise in uninsured rates.

The answer is definitively, No. We do need health-care reform, but Obamacare is not it. We don’t need reform that:

· Causes millions of employers to seriously consider dropping coverage for workers because they are frightened about the cost, complexity, and risks of Obamacare.

· Sends tens of millions more Americans into taxpayer-supported coverage, further swelling the already-alarming federal budget deficit.

· Imposes expensive mandates on states to dramatically expand access to Medicaid, which is already choking their budgets even as it provides the worst health “insurance” coverage of any program in the country.

· Takes $575 billion out of Medicare, not to improve the program but to create huge new underfunded entitlement programs.

· Imposes $500 billion in new taxes on a struggling economy while sapping the resources for investment in new medical innovation.

· Ties our health sector in regulatory knots as physicians, hospitals, businesses, individuals, researchers, states, and virtually everyone else try to sort through the impossible maze of regulation that is coming.

And we certainly don’t need this new federal health-care law that forces insurers to provide more and more expensive benefits, further driving up the cost of coverage and making it harder for businesses and individuals to afford coverage.

We also don’t need politicians to use political tactics to keep people from knowing the facts about rising health-care costs.

The latest example is the extraordinary comment by Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about health-insurance rate increases that companies have announced for next year. “There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases,” she wrote in a letter to insurers.

Insurers have explained that rates are increasing next year, some into double-digits, because of rising medical costs and because of mandates by the new federal health law. Secretary Sebelius threatened to keep insurers from participating in the new government-run health-insurance exchanges if they don’t keep quiet.

Michael Barone called this “gangster government.” The Wall Street Journal says this is “a thuggish message even by her standards,” and concludes that “the White House was always going to blame insurance companies for any cost increases, even when its own policies cause them.”

Get used to it, now that health-care decisions are becoming more and more political. This is only the beginning.

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