Robert Stacy McCain took issue with David Frum’s blog post arguing that defeating Obamacare may prove a pyrrhic victory for conservatives, but I actually mostly agree with what Frum wrote in this case. Just take a deep breath and give me a moment to explain. As I have written repeatedly, conservatives should not be defenders of the status quo, because we do not have a free market health care system in this country. Nearly half of health care spending is already done by the government through entitlement programs that are bankrupting us at the state and federal level, and what’s left of the private market is controlled by bad government policies. We have a tax code that discriminates against those who purchase insurance on their own rather than through their employer, which makes it impossible for somebody to take their health insurance with them from job to job and drives up costs because people always have the perception that somebody is else is picking up the tab. And those who do purchase health care on their own must navigate a highly-regulated individual insurance market in which they don’t have the freedom to purchase the amount of insurance coverage they want, because states mandate how many benefits insurers must offer.
So, while it’s encouraging to see the backlash against Obamacare, it’s easy to see how many of the same arguments can be turned against any future effort to pass free market reforms of the health care system. If Obama, with the full backing of AARP, can’t touch Medicare without getting scorched by seniors worried about losing coverage, then it’s difficult to see older Americans digesting conservative entitlement reform proposals. If Democrats have had to shelve even tinkering with the employer-based health system, both because of bad polling and union opposition, then its hard to see how conservatives could successfully argue that we need to move away from it. And if conservatives have gained traction by noting that Obama’s health care proposals will cause people to lose their current coverage, the argument could be turned around because transitioning to a free market system — while, in my view, much better in the long-run — would have to disrupt the employer system in a way that would likely result in some people losing current coverage. Now, as I said at the outset, I “mostly agree” with Frum, but not entirely. While watching this health care battle unfold demonstrates how difficult it would be to pass free market reforms, the passage of Obamacare would actually make real reform impossible. If we lose this battle we’ll have a massive new entitlement in place that we won’t be able to do away with and it really will be the coup de grace to limited government conservatism. I’d prefer to have a fighting chance.