The Public Policy

ObamaCare at Six Months

How liberals will exploit the failures of government health care to push for government-run health care.

By 9.23.10

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As President Obama spent Wednesday celebrating the six-month anniversary of the national health care law, his crowning legislative achievement remained deeply unpopular.

Despite repeated claims by proponents of the law that Americans would begin to warm up to it once it was enacted, more than 49 percent of the public currently opposes the law, according to an average of polls compiled by Pollster.com, compared with just 41 percent who favor it. Those numbers are virtually identical to where they stood when Obama signed the legislation in March.

The months since passage of ObamaCare have been marked by the evaporation of one promise after another. Contrary to the rhetoric employed by Democrats when they were ramming the unpopular measure through Congress, further evidence has confirmed that the law will increase costs, raise premiums, and cause Americans to lose their current coverage -- even if they like it.

Yet this is no time for opponents of the law to become complacent. ObamaCare boosters are already laying the groundwork to use the failures of the law to advocate a further expansion of the government’s role in health care.

A perfect example is the uproar over recent reports that insurers were citing the new health care law as part of their rationale for raising premiums. In response to the news, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a threatening letter to the insurance industry lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), warning that there will be “zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases.” Sebelius also added that, “I want AHIP's members to be put on notice: the Administration, in partnership with states, will not tolerate unjustified rate hikes in the name of consumer protections.”

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jay Rockefeller echoed Sebelius, declaring in a letter to leading carriers, “If an insurer thinks it can blame the enactment of the Affordable Care Act for its rising premiums, it is surely mistaken."

It’s not hard to see where this is eventually heading. During the health care debate, liberals argued that regulation alone could not rein in the insurance industry, which is why we needed to create a new government-run plan, or so-called “public option.” But the public option ended up getting dropped so that Democrats could corral the votes necessary to move the legislation through the Senate.

As premiums go up in response to ObamaCare, expect to see a lot of Democrats, egged on by their liberal base, make the following argument: “See, we tried to give insurance companies a chance to clean up their act, but they continued their abusive practices. Now we need a public option.” Over time, this can easily morph into an argument for a fully government-run, or single-payer, health care system (which Obama has long described as his ideal).

To prevent this scenario from playing out, it’s important for the law’s opponents to go beyond scoring short-term political points (i.e., “Obama said premiums would go down, and he lied”), and to use this as an opportunity to educate the public on precisely why liberal health care policies have the detrimental effects that they do, and to advocate alternatives.

It’s no surprise that the new health care law, which requires insurers to offer more generous benefits, would make premiums go up. In the pre-ObamaCare health care system, state regulators already created over 2,000 benefits that insurers were mandated to cover, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance -- and those benefits drove up the cost of health insurance by 20 percent to 50 percent.  It’s one reason why coverage in highly-regulated New York costs more than double what it does in neighboring Pennsylvania, according to data from eHealthInsurance.com.

ObamaCare adds a raft of new mandates on top of existing state mandates. The Congressional Budget Office determined that an earlier version of the law would increase premiums in the individual market by 10 percent to 13 percent over where they would be without the law’s passage.

Some of the mandated benefits -- such as the “slacker mandate” that forces insurers to allow younger adults to stay on their parents’ policies until the age of 26 -- are popular in isolation. That’s why it’s imperative to remind the public that the flip side of having the government require additional benefits is that it will drive up premiums for everybody else.

The alternative to the liberal approach is to shift away from a system that is dominated by government and employers, and toward a system where individuals have more control over their own health care dollars and can choose polices that best suit their budget and medical needs.

While ObamaCare supporters may be on the defensive right now, it’s important to remember that advocates of government-run health care will use any angle to build on their gains -- even if it means exploiting the failures of government health care.

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About the Author

Philip Klein is The American Spectator's Washington correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Philipaklein