Battle over health care isn't over
Can we really improve care and costs under central control? Dream on.
Democrats are in celebration mode over their recent victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. But they are mistaken if they think the court's ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—aka Obamacare—will end challenges to the law. The battle over health care has just begun.
Two years after Obamacare's passage, the American people are coming to understand the extent of the health care train wreck this law has foisted upon us. They know, for example, that the two fundamental promises on which it was sold to a jittery citizenry have proved false.
Specifically, in 2010, Obama and his congressional allies assured us that their plan to bring one-sixth of the economy under federal control would "bend the health care cost curve down" and reduce the deficit.
Back then, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the plan would cost $940 billion in the following decade. Now the agency says its true cost for 2012-2022 will be $1.76 trillion—nearly double the figure on which the plan was sold.
Obama also famously promised that Americans who like their doctor or insurance plan could keep them "no matter what." Yet when the law passed, many employers investigated dropping coverage, either to save money or because their plans didn't meet the new law's benefit requirements.
Now the CBO acknowledges that up to 20 million people could lose their employer-provided coverage and could be shunted into state-run insurance exchanges, where huge public subsidies will drive up the costs of coverage.
Today, thanks to Obamacare, Americans' health care choices are not expanding, but contracting. Insurers have already begun to leave the market, and hospitals have begun to close.
And health care costs are rising, not falling. When the law's central provisions take effect in 2014, young people and families—forced to subsidize older, sicker and wealthier Americans—will be among the biggest losers. According to the CBO, by 2014, millions of citizens who buy their own insurance will pay at least $2,100 a year more than they do now.
Seniors also will pay a monumental price. Severe cuts in Medicare payments may mean that many hospitals cannot afford to take them, and many doctors will not treat them.
Obamacare will transfer control over Americans' health care decisions from doctors, patients and health care consumers to unaccountable, unelected federal bureaucrats. The law—with its bewildering maze of new agencies, mandates, penalties and taxes—creates structures and processes that will almost certainly lead to the rationing of care.
We can also expect the medical innovation for which America is world-famous to take a profound hit. According to a study cited by Forbes, Obamacare's medical-device tax could reduce research and development by $2 billion a year, leading to as many as one million life-years lost annually.
The result? Health care quality will decline even as costs soar. No wonder that, in a recent survey, 65 percent of physicians questioned said they expect the quality of American health care to deteriorate over the next five years.
Obamacare will have equally disastrous consequences for the American economy. The law has already prolonged the recession-creating climate of uncertainty, placing debilitating burdens on struggling businesses, and stunting vital job creation.
In the future, we can expect an explosion of the sort of "crony capitalism" that helped ensure the law's passage. In one notorious example, Big Pharma struck a multibillion-dollar deal with the feds to get self-serving provisions into Obamacare, in exchange for publicly supporting the law in a $150 million advertising campaign.
We'll see much more of this as the 2,700-page law's vast extension of federal power enhances government's ability to reward corporate and medical sector allies that bow to its diktats.
The American health care system urgently needs reform. But the age-old leftist dream that we can improve quality and reduce cost through centralized government control is just that—a dream. Instead, we need a system that ensures access to affordable, high-quality care by promoting competition, innovation and patient choice.
The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger has labeled Obamacare a "health-care dinosaur," and has predicted that it will "implode under its own weight."
"From day one," he wrote recently, "the Obama health care legislation was swimming against the tides of history. It was a legislative monolith out of sync with an iPad world. In the era of the smartphone, ObamaCare was rotary-dial health reform."
Why? Because in a world of expanding individual choice and innovation, Obamacare is "a political one-size-must-fit-all."
According to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, more than two-thirds of Americans wanted the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare in whole or in part, and only 24 percent supported keeping the law in place.
Now they will have to do it themselves—at the ballot box in November.
Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment.
This commentary originally appeared in the Star Tribune on July 1, 2012.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted.