ObamaCare backers should get ready to play defense

Grace-Marie Turner President, Galen Institute
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House Democrats are so worried about having to defend the Cornhusker Kickback and other special deals in the Senate bill that Speaker Pelosi can’t get the 216 votes she needs from her caucus to pass it.

Hence, the Slaughter Strategy to “deem” the Senate bill passed so President Obama can sign it into law. But these shenanigans and special deals will be the least of the worries of members who vote for ObamaCare. If it becomes law, they will be perpetually on defense in the coming months and even years trying to explain a domino effect of problems that are sure to follow.

President Obama’s reassurances that the public’s opposition to this massive overhaul legislation will turn to approval are pure fantasy.

The American people figured out by last August that they opposed the substance of the health overhaul legislation then emerging from Congress for its huge expansion of the role of government into our health sector. Their fears and anger about ObamaCare’s impact on medical decisions have not changed and in fact have grown stronger since then, especially among seniors. Strike One.

Then in December, Americans were repulsed by the special deals and pork that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inserted into the bill to get the votes of 60 senators. Strike Two.

Now the American people are burning up the phone lines on Capitol Hill, outraged over the processes that Speaker Pelosi is contemplating to “deem” the hated Senate bill to be passed by the House—without members even voting on it. Strike Three.

Special deals and parliamentary maneuvering will not calm this outrage. Their minds are made up. They oppose ObamaCare.

The Democratic leadership has issued a list of the Top Ten Immediate Benefits the bill will offer, but they are either too modest to affect many people or likely will cause unintended consequences. For example, the requirements that insurers eliminate lifetime limits on policies and provide preventive services with no cost sharing will surely make health insurance even more expensive.

If members decide to vote for the bill, despite overwhelming opposition from their constituents, they will be placing a large albatross around their necks as the inevitable failings in our health sector surely will be blamed on this bill. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Cost: Health insurance costs will continue to soar. The Congressional Budget Office says health insurance premiums will be $2,100 higher by 2016 for families in the individual market than if the legislation didn’t pass. PricewaterhouseCoopers says premiums will be $4,000 higher. If ObamaCare passes, people will wonder what happened to the president’s promises that premiums would fall.
  2. Medicare: Half a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicare will come with consequences. The added drug benefit will assist a few, but at least 10 million seniors are threatened with losing their Medicare Advantage benefits and plans because of deep cuts to the program. When they lose their coverage, they will blame ObamaCare. And it will come sooner rather than later.
  3. Jobs: Speaker Pelosi says that up to 400,000 jobs will be created per year if the bill passes, but the Beacon Hill Institute says it instead will lead to 700,000 jobs lost by 2019. Employers will face new taxes as well as fines and penalties if they don’t provide insurance or if one or more of their employees seeks coverage in the new government exchange. Hiring new workers, particularly entry-level employees, will be a risk fewer employers will be willing to take.
  4. Coverage: Many people who value their job-based insurance could lose it. Employers will face huge risks if they continue to offer health insurance, and already are considering dropping health benefits altogether. Many will find it is cheaper to pay the fine and send their employees to the exchanges or other government plans than to pay for increasingly expensive, government-defined insurance for their workforce.

In addition, the uninsured rolls will continue to swell, it will be harder and harder to find a doctor as many quit the practice of medicine altogether, deficits will continue to soar, and the quality of care will get steadily worse as doctors and hospitals become more responsive to bureaucrats than to patients. Just for starters.

Members who vote for this bill, boasting of its benefits, should expect to find themselves perpetually on defense in explaining the cascade of problems it creates, as opponents of ObamaCare surely will not hesitate to point out its failings and who is responsible.

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization focusing on ideas for patient-centered health policy. She can be reached at galen@galen.org