Published in the Chicago Tribune, August 21, 2009
Are opponents of President Barack Obama's health-reform plan employing scare tactics? The White House wants you to think so. The administration recently warned of "scary" messages and "misinformation" on the Internet, and for a while — until cooler thought prevailed — it asked citizens to report any claims they found "fishy."
Urging people to report dissenting views to government authorities sounds eerily Orwellian. But the White House itself is the source of much of the misinformation — and even some of the scare tactics.
More recently, the president made a joke of seniors' concerns that government will ration health care and "pull the plug on grandma."
But it's not just the president's
off-handed remarks that concern people.
It's also his claims about what his reform plan will accomplish — that health reform will lower health costs, cover everybody and allow people to keep their health insurance — which are simply not supported by the facts.
The House version of the health bill will cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and will increase the federal deficit by $239 billion.
With this year's federal budget deficit topping $1 trillion for the first time in history, how is it fiscally responsible to add further deficit spending?
And despite Obama's repeated claims to the contrary, there's no indication that these bills would control costs. In fact, according to CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf — who was appointed to that position by none other than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — "the legislation significantly expands" health costs.
Nor would any of these bills achieve universal coverage. The CBO estimates that the House plan would leave roughly 17 million people uninsured.
What, then, would these costly schemes actually accomplish?
They would likely raise the cost of health-insurance premiums while slowing job growth. The bills also contain a new federal mandate that employers must either provide health insurance or pay a new tax. Many businesses would have to take on a huge new cost when they're already struggling to stay afloat, likely forcing them to lay off more workers or even close their doors.
A jobs-killing bill is the last thing our economy needs.
If the employer mandate were imposed, many companies would have little financial recourse but to shift their employees out of their current private insurance and onto a government-run, public plan.
The Lewin Group, an economics consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers, recently examined a select group of states to determine if people who currently have insurance would get pushed onto a new public insurance program if it was made available to them. In Maine, 72 percent of the privately insured and 78 percent of the employer-insured would get switched over to the new government health plan.
Yet Obama continues to promise that those who like their insurance will be able to keep it. Call it misinformation or strategic political rhetoric.
Either way, independent studies show it is not true.
Some Democratic leaders, wary of the costs imposed by this employer mandate, have proposed an alternative "free-rider penalty." This would require employers to pay a fee for not sponsoring insurance for lower-wage workers. But that's little more than new wrapping on an old gift: Either way, employers get penalized, jobs get threatened, and economic growth gets undermined. And the free-rider tax would hit lower-wage workers the hardest.
The White House is not being hit by scare tactics, but by the facts.
The president is selling his plan on the promise that it will save money, cover everyone, and not disrupt existing coverage. Many Americans are now rejecting these claims, and for good reason. Facts are stubborn things.
And that's exactly why the White House is having such a tough time.