Published in the New York Post , July 23, 2009
President Obama seems to believe he can talk his way past the reality of how his sweeping health-reform plan would affect the lives of 300 million Americans.
But alert citizens aren't buying the sales pitch, spelling trouble for enactment of his top legislative priority.
In an effort to generate public support for quick passage of the bills now before Congress, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius traveled on Monday to a town-hall meeting in Reserve, La. — but the crowd wound up mocking her. Some in the audience wore "Hands Off My Health Care" T-shirts; the loudest cheers came when questioners criticized the Obama plan. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) similarly got laughed at during a town-hall meeting in his district when he said that the plan would save $6 billion over 10 years.
These catcalls from the peanut gallery show that Americans just aren't buying the idea that a major expansion of government power over our health system can possibly save money.
The facts just aren't lining up with the rhetoric. A few examples:
Rhetoric: The president insisted in his news conference last night that "the bill I sign must also slow the growth of health-care costs in the long run."
Reality: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad asked the man who is the top authority on the subject — Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf — if the bills before Congress would "bend the long-term cost curve" in health care.
"No, Mr. Chairman," Elmendorf said, adding, "the legislation significantly expands" health costs.
Rhetoric: Obama said last night his plan "will keep government out of health-care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it."
Reality: The Lewin Group, a respected economics-consulting firm, estimates in a new study for The Heritage Foundation that more than 80 million people would lose the coverage they have today if the Obama plan is implemented.
Rhetoric: President Obama has traveled the country extolling the virtues of the Mayo Clinic and other integrated health systems, saying they offer "the highest quality care at costs well below the national norm" and should be a model for the nation.
Reality: The Mayo Clinic and 12 other top health-care-delivery outlets just sent Congress a letter, warning that the bill that already has passed two committees in the House would put them out of business.
If the government creates its own health-insurance plan paying at Medicare rates, as the administration and Congress propose, the organizations say the result will be "unsustainable for even the nation's most efficient, high-quality providers, eventually driving them out of the market."
The president tried to get around these realities by saying the bills before Congress don't meet all of his tests. But the question is, why not? He abdicates his responsibilities in not making it crystal clear which tests must be met and how.
The nation's governors are joining the chorus of public officials and citizens voicing serious concerns about health reform's costs and consequences: They fear it would dump huge costs on the states at a time their coffers are running dry under the recession's pressures.
Undaunted, liberals still demand that Obama not budge on creating a new government health-insurance program modeled on Medicare (which, not incidentally, is set to go bankrupt in just a few years).
Yet a key minority of Democrats and virtually all Republicans strongly oppose the "public plan" because they know it will put private insurers out of business, leaving Americans only with the "choice" of a government health program. Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) told his constituents this week: "The current health-insurance plan that's been released, in my opinion, will only exacerbate the problem."
The Obama team is in a game of "whack a mole" — every time it thinks it has solved one problem, another pops up.
For example, the conservative Blue Dog Democrats met with the president on Tuesday to work out a way to keep down the reform plan's costs. They reached an agreement to create a superagency with power to set payments for Medicare and possibly other health plans to lower health spending.
But the chairmen of congressional committees with jurisdiction over Medicare all oppose the idea, as do many other lawmakers. They worry that voters might hold them accountable if the board were to impose spending cuts that result in reduced services.
Obama continues to claim there's enough consensus around reform to get to a deal. He says that both sides agree we need to lower costs, promote choice and provide coverage for every American. Unfortunately, that's where the agreement ends — and he never confronts the simple fact that the bills he's supporting achieve none of those goals.
It's the stubborn facts that are likely to sink his centralized health-reform plans.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a nonprofit research orga nization focused on market-based ap proaches to health reform.