Critical Condition

Promises Made — and Broken

How will President Obama possibly be able to support the bill that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled to such great fanfare last Thursday? The bill breaks major promises he has made to the American people about his goals for health reform on cost, taxes, insurance coverage, and transparency — for starters.

Cost: The president has assured Americans that passing health-reform legislation will mean lower health costs.

But the House bill would bend the federal cost curve UP, not down, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also estimated that an earlier — and very similar — version of the House bill would drive health expenditures in one decade 2.1 percent higher than they otherwise would be.

And only by using budget gimmicks were House leaders able to get the reported government cost of the monstrous bill under $900 billion over ten years. Robert Pear of the New York Times reports, “By the most commonly used yardstick, the bill would cost $1.05 trillion over ten years, roughly $150 billion more than President Obama had said he wanted to spend on the legislation.”

And that doesn’t include the “Doc Fix.” The Speaker had the audacity to introduce a bill separately to halt a 21 percent cut in Medicare’s payments to physicians next year, so this $245 billion isn’t counted in the total cost of the bill.

A separate article by budget analyst Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shows when all of the actual costs of the House health plan are added up, the total comes to $1.5 trillion.

And consumers will see higher prices as well.  To find out the impact on the cost the insurance “reforms” in the House bill to consumers, WellPoint mined its actuarial data from 14 states where it runs Blue Cross plans. It found they would drive up premiums for small businesses and individuals, and young and healthy consumers would see the largest increases, with premiums more than tripling in some states.

And this doesn’t even count the huge economic distortions, cost-shifting, and new taxes that surely will be passed along to consumers.

Middle-class taxes: The president promised no tax increases on the middle class, but they will nonetheless pay more and higher taxes to finance the bill. Americans for Tax Reform posted a listing of the new taxes in the House bill which violate the president’s pledge.

This includes the estimated $33 billion in taxes the CBO says will be collected from individuals who don’t buy the expensive, government-mandated health insurance — and many of them surely will make a lot less than $250,000 a year.

Keeping your health insurance:  A coalition of major business groups last week sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehner saying the House bill falls short of the bipartisan goal of controlling costs and could jeopardize group health insurance provided by employers to 160 million workers.

These are people who should know because they represent the companies that provide health coverage to the majority of Americans: The American Benefits Council, Business Roundtable, Corporate Health Care Coalition, the ERISA Industry Committee, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, National Business Group on Health, National Coalition on Benefits, National Retail Federation, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And it will hurt those working for small businesses as well. “The House bill will make it impossible for retailers and restaurants to provide affordable benefits to their employees,” said Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation. “In all likelihood, it will force many employers to lay off employees, reduce hiring or shutter their businesses. This is not what we sought from health-care reform.”

Openness and transparency: Speaker Pelosi’s announcement of the House bill last Thursday had all the trappings of a major campaign rally. The only problem was that the public was locked out. Big chain-link fences surrounded the West Front of the Capitol — usually a very open, public space — to make sure only supporters of the bill were allowed in.

This is symbolic of the whole process: The American people are being shut out of the debate. All congressional recesses have been cancelled since August to keep members away from their constituents as much as possible, doors are locked while negotiations over the bills are taking place, and now, the public was even shut out of the public space outside the Capitol for the announcement rally.

The president says health reform will foster choice and competition. But the 400,000-word House health-reform bill would shove an absolutely astonishing level of government intrusion into the lives of every American, every business, and every health-care professional, vesting power and control, not to consumers, but to the Federal government.

This legislation is going to have an impact on the economic and health-care freedom of Americans for decades to come. It is beyond irresponsible for Congress to be on the verge of passing these bills with this kind of disregard for the will of the people.

Politico carried a full-page ad on Friday with the pictures of 36 former members of Congress defeated in the 1994 elections in the aftermath of Hillarycare. It could happen again unless members open up this process and heed the fears of their constituents about the government take-over of the health sector.

– Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute.