Health care law a bad prescription
By: Bruce Josten
President Barack Obama, several Cabinet secretaries and Democratic congressional leaders are due to fan out across the country this week to again defend the health care law that was jammed through Congress on a party-line vote and signed by the president one year ago today.
This coordinated PR campaign and excessive eagerness to convince Americans about the law’s benefits betray its serious flaws — namely, higher-than-expected costs, a wave of complex new regulations and a chilling effect on economic growth and job creation.
During the health care debate, Americans were promised this “reform” would lower costs. Instead, costs are rising. Officials — including the chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — have since acknowledged that because of higher cost estimates, the savings earmarked for Medicare will never materialize.
The law is expected to increase federal health care spending by nearly a half-trillion dollars in the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Private employer health care costs also are rising — in part because of mandates that took effect last fall.
Americans were also told that if they liked their health plan, they could keep it. However, in some states, Medicare Advantage participants are now told their plans will no longer be available because of cost pressures. Similarly, workers banking on employer-based coverage when they retire are being told not to count on it. As premiums rise, owing, in part, to the new mandates, many companies may be forced to consider ending their employer-based plans and moving workers into government-run exchanges.
The health care law is overwhelming businesses and individuals with costly and confusing regulations. In addition to creating 159 new agencies, commissions, panels and other bodies, the law grants extraordinary powers to the Department of Health and Human Services to redefine health care as we know it. Regulators are issuing thousands of pages of rules while allowing little time for public comments — creating tremendous uncertainty among businesses and individuals.
For example, the regulation implementing the administration’s promise that people could keep their plan and doctors if they prefer was published in June, with comments due in mid-August — only to go into effect a little more than 30 days later.
To further exacerbate frustrations, the rule was changed again, two months after it went into effect. Though the amended rule could help plans next year, many had already sacrificed thousands of dollars to comply with the original rule.
Perhaps most damaging, the health care law is stalling economic growth and job creation, when nearly 14 million Americans are looking for a job. Businesses are calculating the costs of the employer mandate and new taxes and fees in future years and are deciding not to add to their payrolls.
Brett Parker, for example, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Bowlmor Lanes, has expanded from one to six locations in four states, increasing to more than 500 employees from 50 in the past 10 years. Parker testified before Congress that the added health care costs imposed by the new law would significantly slow the sustainable growth rate of his business. He said the law could preclude him from investing $26 million, opening five locations or creating 500 jobs over the law’s first five years.
It’s not just businesses saying that the health care law is destroying jobs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could result in the loss of more than 800,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
It’s time for Congress and the Obama administration to face the facts: The health care law is impractical and unworkable. In a tacit admission of this, the administration has already granted temporary waivers to more than 1,000 organizations, to ensure that people don’t lose the coverage they have before other options are available. At the same time, 30 states are now either seeking a waiver, have received a waiver or are filing a lawsuit against the federal government to get out from under the law.
The public is against it. Slightly more than half of Americans support repeal of the law, according to several recent polls.
Congress needs to scrap the health care law and start over before any more damage is done. What our country needs is common-sense solutions that will reduce costs, improve care and expand access to coverage.
Widespread deployment of health information technology, medical liability reform, better pooling options for small businesses and other reasonable reforms are likely to strengthen consumer choice, increase competition and make health care more affordable.
The president has asked his opponents to offer other ideas. Ours are very good — and would attract substantial bipartisan support.
The ball is in his court.
Bruce Josten is executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.