The president and his allies are hoping to reform the US health care system, which represents roughly 17% of the domestic economy. They’re doing so with little open debate and next to no transparency – a recent, closed door White House meeting with senators included 23 Democratic politicians and the Senate’s lone socialist. And the president wants a bill on his desk by August.
So I think it’s right to ask, as the WSJ has – what’s the rush?
It’s not hard to see why Democrats are trying to hew to this full-speed-ahead timetable. Their health overhaul will run up a 13-figure price tag at a time when spending and deficits are already at epic levels and hook up the middle class to an intravenous drip of government health subsidies for generations to come. These are not realities that Democrats want the American people to mull over for very long.
This is especially true for the majority of Americans who are generally satisfied with their coverage and doctors but worried about cost. They might get scared off if they were allowed the chance to realize that Democrats will do almost nothing to restrain rising health spending. Based on the leaks so far, this year’s legislation will hone in on traditional liberal concerns of social equity — covering the uninsured.
Give credit where it’s due for good intentions, but once the government fills the space previously occupied – however imperfectly – by market competitors, the market players get shouldered out. You can’t compete with the feds.
Employers on the edge will look to save costs by terminating health benefits for their employers, safe in the knowledge that the government will be there as a safety net. Their competitors will lose market share to companies that can provide equal goods and services at lower cost, leading them to join the exodus. As the pool of insured gets smaller, the risk to those remaining is spread less broadly, causing rates to rise for everyone and increasing the tendency to fall back on government health care. In a classic vicious cycle, eventually only the rich and very rich will be able to afford private health insurance.
The end result will no doubt be a much “fairer” system. But without some way of getting a handle on spiraling costs, it will not be – cannot be – a less expensive one. And it may not retain the same quality of care that insured Americans have gotten used to. How do you add 14 million otherwise uninsured people to the rolls and save money without imposing innovation stifling procedural restrictions or rationing?
The Democratic Party has been begging for the chance to fix the US health care system ever since the “crisis” was first revealed to us in 1993. Now the voters have given them the power to do so.
But it’s only fair for them to take the time and explain to us how this is going to work, what it’s going to cost and who is going to pay for it.