Common Sense: If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free

Harrison Leonard

Harrison Leonard
Contributing columnist

In 2005, Senate Republicans threatened to employ the “nuclear option,” a crafty procedural rule that would allow the Senate to pass bills without the traditionally required supermajority. Democrats summarily denounced this tactic. Barack Obama said the plan “would change the character of the Senate forever” and would result in “majoritarian absolute power on either side, and that’s just not what the founders intended.” Joe Biden called it “an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab…I pray God when the Democrats take back control we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.” My, how the tables turn.

Admittedly, there are problems with America’s health care industry that need fixing. And in fairness, there are a few decent components to this health care reform package. It is right that the status quo on preexisting conditions were reevaluated. And putting an end to state insurance monopolies by allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines was good too. But I fear the health care reform package is generally a case of “cure worse than the disease.”

There are a number of reasons to be skeptical that this bill will do more harm than good. The Wall Street Journal estimates that it will require individuals making $44,000 per year to pay what will amount to a $608 monthly premium. I currently pay $123 per month for my Blue Shield PPO plan. I pay directly through Blue Shield and do not purchase insurance through work or anywhere else. Under this bill my plan will increase in price until it will be eradicated by 2014 and I will be forced to buy into a government “qualified plan”. I am satisfied with my coverage and do not want the federal government telling me what plans I can or can’t buy.

Determining the cost of this health care reform package is tricky. The bill costs our country $940 billion dollars, a scary proposition for a bankrupt nation that is borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar from China. But Democrats in Congress claim that it will actually reduce the deficit by $143 billion over a ten-year period. However, the reason the Democrats can say this bill reduces the deficit is because the most expensive elements of the reform package have been shifted onto another spending bill which is being passed alongside the health care bill. This maneuver allows them to say that the reform package itself isn’t expensive, even though its partner package is.

Besides, when has a government entitlement program ever come in on budget? Medicare costs over seven times what it was projected to cost when it was first passed. Social Security and Medicare were promoted by FDR and LBJ as cost-efficient safety nets for future generations. Instead, they have resulted in over $80 trillion in unfunded liabilities – an average of $450,000 per American household. Fuzzy math is bad math.

Democrat leaders in Washington have made much of the fact that their bill is modeled after the bipartisan one passed four years ago in Massachusetts. But that program was openly designed to increase coverage, not reduce costs. Increase coverage, it has – some 98 percent of Massachusetts residents possess health insurance. Reduce costs, it certainly hasn’t – Massachusetts’ health insurance premiums are the highest in the nation.

Like any piece of legislation, parts of the Massachusetts program were good, and other parts, bad. Why, then, must we now subject all fifty states to a one-size-fits-all solution that will almost certainly produce unintended fiscal consequences for consumers? What works in Massachusetts may not necessarily work in Wyoming, and what requires fixing in California may be different from what requires fixing in Maryland. Let each state operate, as Justice Brandeis once put it, as “laboratories of democracy,” and don’t impose a single, sweeping solution to a complicated problem.