As they watch Obamacare shudder and smoke through the final countdown to its January liftoff, some of its advocates have discreetly eased away from the launch pad to avoid political injury when the ramshackle contraption finally explodes. Yet the perversity of progressivism is such that, even now, most supporters of the law refuse to admit that the countdown should stop. Their primary justifications for this irresponsible position are that no one has offered an alternative vehicle for reform and that, even with its flaws, Obamacare will effect a marked improvement in the dysfunctional health care system it was passed to reform.
Both claims are demonstrably false. First, let’s dispose of the claim that Obamacare’s opponents have offered no alternative reform plan. Ten minutes of research will render it obvious to any objective observer that this is pure fiction. The very people who make this assertion consumed enormous amounts of ink and bandwidth denouncing Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, for providing just such an alternative. And, when Ryan teamed up with Democrat Ron Wyden to add bipartisan Medicare reform to the mix, Democrat hysteria was such that Wyden was eventually bullied into disavowing the partnership.
Another prominent politician who has offered an alternative is none other than Barack Obama. When he first ran for the presidency, he offered a plan whose details diverged sharply with many provisions that ended up in the “Affordable Care Act.” He was, for example, vehemently opposed to an individual mandate. In fact, he routinely lambasted Hillary Clinton for including such a provision in her plan. During the Democrat debates, he often insinuated that her advocacy of a mandate reflected a lack of compassion: “The reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.”
The Ryan plan and the original Obama plan are by no means the only alternatives to Obamacare that have been offered, and yet its supporters continue to pretend that opposition to the law is based solely on animosity toward the President or fear that it will somehow succeed. Paul Krugman, who by the way denounced Obama in 2007 as a low mudslinger for daring to contradict Hillary, belongs to the latter school. In a recent column he fantasized, “Better-informed people on the right seem, finally, to be facing up to a horrible truth: Health care reform, President Obama’s signature policy achievement, is probably going to work.”
This bizarre delusion brings us back to the second liberal justification for allowing the Obamacare countdown to continue despite the deafening alarm klaxons — the claim that it will improve the performance of the U.S. health care system. To respond to that claim, we first have to define what “improvement” means. During and after the 2008 election, countless surveys showed that the main benefit the voters wanted from health reform was cost control. In the summer of 2009, for example, Gallup released a poll indicating that the public considered, “by 52% to 42%, that controlling costs is more crucial than expanding coverage.”
Thus, if we define “improvement” as giving the public what it wanted from health reform, “the horrible truth” about Obamacare is that it has made things worse. It is now obvious that it will accelerate the pace at which health care costs have been rising. Anyone doubting this reality need only look at the inflated prices individuals will pay for coverage in the state insurance exchanges created by the law. Bureaucrats in Democrat-controlled states have lied about the rate shock. But in states run by honest officials, like Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and South Carolina, the exchanges are reporting significant increases in the cost of individual policies.
Obamacare advocates willing to admit that insurance purchased through the exchanges will be very expensive have argued that this will only affect a small percentage of the public. Most people, they tell us, are covered through their employers and will not face serious increases. This argument is unlikely to mollify the employees of UPS, who have just been advised that Obamacare-related costs are forcing the company to drop the spouses of 15,000 workers from its health plan. Nor will it impress the employees of Delta Airlines, which estimates that Obamacare will increase the cost of employee coverage by $100 million next year.
The tragic irony of this Obamacare-induced upsurge in health care costs is that it has actually reversed an encouraging cost trend. The annual increase in U.S. health expenditures began slowing long before “reform” passed. Indeed, the trend had already begun before the man who signed it into law was elected President. As David Cutler and Nikhil Sahni wrote last May, “US health care spending growth has slowed in the past four years, continuing a trend that began in the early 2000s.” And their findings cannot be written off as products of the “Republican noise machine.” Cutler is a Democrat who has been a close advisor to Obama himself.
So, the two main excuses that Obamacare supporters give for powering up this trembling wreck — there are no viable alternatives and even a flawed plan will improve the system — turn out to be nonsense. The Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee long ago offered a viable plan, and everyone armed with the facts and a command of basic arithmetic understands that “reform” hasn’t a prayer of improving the U.S. health care system in any meaningful way. In other words, Obamacare isn’t better than no plan at all. The best thing the President can do for U.S. health care is to abort the launch of this ill-conceived contraption.