Feature:Opinion

Health care unreformed

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts Congressman, Pennsylvania 16th District

This week marked three months since passage of President Obama’s healthcare bill. At the time of passage, more than half of Americans polled opposed the bill. Now, nearly 100 days later, a new Rasmussen polls notes that 55 percent of Americans favor repeal while only 40 percent support the new law.

The week the bill passed, President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats insisted that the American people would embrace the bill after it became law. Instead, there is increased skepticism and doubt about how the law will change healthcare in our country.

Like many government programs before, the new healthcare law has been difficult to implement. One of the new programs created by the law is a high-risk pool, an insurance plan for those too sick to qualify for other insurance. At this time, 18 states have opted-out of the program because they feel that the law fails to sufficiently fund the program.

States are worried that when the federal funds run out, they will be saddled with tens of millions of dollars in costs. In states that have opted out, the federal government will operate the program, closing off coverage after the funds run dry. The deadline to have the pool up and running was June 21, as of today that deadline has been backed up to July 1.

A high-risk pool for people who are having difficulty getting insurance is a concept supported by both Democrats and Republicans. But states like Pennsylvania, that are already facing budget crises, aren’t ready to take on new responsibilities that could drive them further into debt. This poorly constructed program does not meet the needs of the uninsured.

The high-risk pool isn’t the only part of the law running into implementation problems. Apparent confusion between the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Service has caused the deadlines to pass for the establishment of a breast cancer task force and an Alaskan health task force. These are just two of the more than 159 bureaucracies and programs created by the new law.

HHS has been missing deadlines for two months now. Just 30 days after passage, the agency failed to develop a list of all the new authority given to the HHS Secretary by the new law. In other words, they couldn’t figure out all of their new responsibilities.

While there is uncertainty about the implementation of the new law, there is more certainty about the true costs of President Obama’s healthcare plan. In April, the government agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid released a report clearly stating that new fees and taxes established by the law would, “Generally be passed through to health consumers in the form of higher drug and device prices and higher insurance premiums.”

At the same time that out-of-pocket costs will be driven up, overall costs for healthcare in the U.S. will also rise. According to the same April report, the law will increase health spending by $311 billion over the next ten years.

The President has done his best to promote the supposed benefits of the bill. Unfortunately, the parts of the law he has been promoting only help a relatively small number of Americans.

Much has been made of the new tax credits to help small businesses purchase coverage for their employees. The reality is that only 12 percent of small businesses actually qualify for the credit.

Those that do qualify for the credit will be forced to stay within strict boundaries. If they hire too many employees, or increase wages too much, the credit will go away and they will either have to bear the full costs or pay a tax penalty for not providing insurance.

There are good things in the law, ideas that both parties agreed on. Starting this fall, young people under the age of 26 will be able to stay on their parents’ plan. In fact, many insurance companies are already extending coverage.

Much of the law won’t be implemented until 2014. There is time to do things better, to construct a bipartisan plan that all Americans can have confidence in. I don’t expect the current Congressional leadership to consider changes to the law, but I’m still working with my colleagues on real health reform that expands choices and lowers costs without government micromanagement.