Debt talks a missed opportunity to gut Obamacare - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Debt talks a missed opportunity to gut Obamacare

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East Valley resident Tom Patterson (pattersontomc@cox.net) is a retired physician and former state senator.

Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 10:59 am, Fri Aug 5, 2011.

Obamacare should have been part of the debt ceiling negotiations. There will never be a better time to eliminate this serious threat to our financial future.

Two years after its passage, Obamacare is faring worse than ever. The program remains massively unpopular with the American people. On July 25, Rasmussen reported that 57 percent favor repeal with 46 percent strongly in favor. Only 31 percent now believe the law will be good for the country — the lowest percentage since its passage.

There’s more than we thought to hate. The economic consequences of the plan have always been murky, because the bill intentionally was written to obscure the true cost. For example, the $500 billion in unspecified cuts to Medicare has nothing to do with Obamacare. Anybody with half a brain knows they aren’t going to happen anyway. The imaginary cuts were just thrown in to make the bill score better.

But recently Medicare’s chief actuary blew the whistle. He reported that Obamacare would not reduce Medicare costs. Instead, it would actually increase Medicare’s unfunded liabilities by several trillion dollars, thus confirming that you can’t give away loads of free stuff without someone paying for it.

Another nasty surprise came from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Their actuary reported that the law would provide Medicaid benefits, intended for low-income folks, to 5 million middle-class seniors, an outcome that clearly “makes no sense.”

Meanwhile, McKinsey & Co. found that up to a third of companies may drop their employee health benefits. Business owners don’t seem to be reacting well to paying higher premiums for worse coverage. Despite withering criticism from the White House, McKinsey stood by their claim.

They were backed up by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), whose own survey showed that well over half of small-business owners who provide health insurance are at least “somewhat likely” to drop it. So much for Obama’s promise that “you can keep your insurance.”

But probably nothing encapsulates the unraveling of the law more than the 1,732 waivers granted so far from those wishing to be excused from participation. Business owners are lining up to exit the program.

Of course, not everyone who applies receives a waiver. No, no, no. It helps to have connections and a Washington lobbyist. Labor unions have done well in the waiver process, as have large national firms. But your best chance at the jackpot is to live in Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, where fully 20 percent of the waivers have been awarded, or in Nevada, where Harry Reid’s home state has been given a pass. Laws are for the little people.

Americans of all political stripes also have reacted poorly to finding out more about IPAB, the all-powerful board in charge of controlling costs in Obamacare. Even some Democratic members of Congress and Obamacare advocates are on board for repeal. Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt was appalled, calling it “an unelected and unaccountable board” that could unilaterally limit access to necessary medical treatment.

Obamacare isn’t faring well in court, either. Legal actions against IPAB, against the mandate to force purchasing of medical insurance and against infringements to state sovereignty, are all very much alive and well in federal courts. The acting solicitor general even recently argued that the mandate wasn’t really a mandate because Americans could choose poverty as an alternative to complying!

So if Obamacare is so poorly designed and obviously unaffordable, won’t it just eventually sink of its own weight? Unfortunately, no. All entitlement programs, once established, become wildly popular with their beneficiaries.

Take Social Security. It’s a horrible retirement plan. Payments are skimpy relative to contributions, the trust supporting the payouts is on shaky ground and your estate owns nothing upon your death. A salesman attempting to sell such a product would be laughed at. Yet it is politically protected by all the single-issue voters who turn against politicians advocating even modest reforms.

Obamacare today is crowding out reforms that truly could help to curb medical costs and preserve the social safety net for future generations. We need to root it out now, before it’s too late.

• East Valley resident Tom Patterson (pattersontomc@cox.net) is a retired physician and former state senator.

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