Sarah Palin was right

David Merritt Managing Director, Luntz Global Partners
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In the summer of 2009, when the outrage over the Democrats’ emerging health care reform bills was at its height, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was excoriated by the left for saying:

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

The roiling debate over the HHS decision to mandate universal coverage for contraceptive services takes us back to Palin’s remarks.

Obamacare requires health plans to offer certain benefits, like contraception services, annual physicals, vaccinations, and breastfeeding “support and supplies,” with no co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible. The benefits themselves are not the problem — wellness and prevention services are absolutely critical to reining in health care costs and contraception services should be available for those who want them, which they are. (I keep hearing how 98% of Catholics use birth control. Doesn’t this prove that access to contraception isn’t a problem?)

What’s dangerous about these mandates is that they give government the power to decide whether you’ll purchase insurance, who and what will be covered by that insurance, and if businesses are offering good enough insurance.

President Gerald Ford once said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” For now, the government is giving — or requiring businesses to give — more health services to Americans through subsidies, mandates, and other means. But Obamacare, which grants the HHS secretary 1,968 new or expanded powers, also gives the government the power to take.

Just look at the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a federal council of 15 political appointees that is specifically charged with cutting Medicare spending. Keep in mind that controlling Medicare spending means not paying for medical services or paying less for them, making it less likely that a doctor or hospital will provide the care.

Richard Foster, the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted shortly after the passage of Obamacare that the cuts IPAB makes between 2015 and 2019 will total $24 billion. But the Congressional Budget Office recently predicted that IPAB would cut much more after that because “Medicare spending is projected to grow at rates that generally exceed the IPAB’s target.” (So much for Obamacare reducing health care costs.) To reach its cost-cutting targets, this government board will ultimately decide how much Medicare will spend on seniors’ medical care.

The reason the government will ultimately take things away is that giving everything to everyone is unsustainable. Setting aside Obamacare and its “free” services, just look at the size of the debt. The gross national debt has tripled since 2001 to more than $15 trillion, with $5 trillion coming during President Obama’s first three years — about $4.4 billion a day. It will total nearly $22 trillion by 2022, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office. Medicare is no better. The federal government has promised tens of trillions of dollars in benefits that it will not have the money to cover. The staggering federal debt will force the government to take — through a combination of regulations and boards like IPAB.

All of this is to say that Governor Palin’s “death panels” don’t seem so far-fetched today.

David Merritt is a sought-after author, speaker, and policy adviser and is the former CEO of the Center for Health Transformation and the Gingrich Group.