The New York Times goes after the Republicans’ Pledge to America today, blasting the lack of specifics on how the GOP plans to cut the budget deficit. The manifesto from John Boehner and his cohorts is a red herring; though perhaps a useful counterpoint to the “Party of No” accusations, it detracts from a simple and winning strategy: pound away on Obamacare.
Americans do not like Obamacare. They don’t believe that it will save them money or bring down health care costs. No matter how many times the president goes on national TV to pitch his signature bill, the nation remains steadfastly unimpressed. In the most recent Rasmussen poll, 57% of likely voters favor repealing the law. Fully 59% think that health care costs will go up under Obamacare and 52% think the quality of care will go down.
Of course, Americans are right. There is nothing in the bill that will cause the nation’s health care costs to decline – no serious TORT reform, no change in how Medicare costs are reimbursed, and perhaps most important, no effort to put the United States on a diet. All these issues were trumped by the political ambition to pass a bill—any bill -- leaving the Obama administration with one song to sing: we got tough with the insurance industry.
Hence the embarrassing spectacle of U.S. Health and Human Services head Kathleen Sibelius writing op-eds recently to defend the administration’s assaults on insurers who have dared to raise premiums. Indeed, numerous companies have put through increases to reflect rising costs – which include new Obamacare mandates as well as increases in medical expenses.
Let us not forget that way before Team Obama decided to go after the insurance industry, the country was concerned about actual health care costs. The medical industry was consuming an ever-larger share of GDP, finally topping out at 17%, as costs grew rapidly – especially during the 1970s and 1980s. Contributing to the rise in outlays was a number of factors, including those alluded to above – inefficiencies in Medicare and Medicaid (remember how we were going to rid those bodies of waste and fraud?), the aging of the population, which meant rising per capita health spending, skyrocketing costs of malpractice insurance and, importantly, medical innovation – the number of prescriptions per person was rising along with the development of new drug treatments for common ailments, such as statin drugs to prevent heart disease. A Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that between 1997 and 2007 the number of prescriptions purchased in the U.S. rose 72%, against a population expansion of just 11%. The reality is that some of the rise in medical outlays came from Americans *choosing* to spend money on life-improving treatments.
That reality has been lost. The Obama administration decided as its poll numbers plummeted that Americans could be conned into blaming insurers for all their medical woes, and the game was on.
In her op-ed entitled “Health Insurers Finally Get Some Oversight” Sibelius sounds like Crusader Rabbit, slaying the evil insurance industry. She crows that “46 states have already received grants to beef up their premium-review and oversight capabilities. And additional funding is on the way.” Does she really think that will cheer Americans – to know that even more of their tax dollars are flowing to our bloated bureaucracy? She tries to frighten Americans about “what happens when insurance companies have free rein.” What really scares Americans is what happens when the Obama crowd has free rein.
Few people love their health insurer, but most understand that if the industry is required to pony up all kinds of new benefits, such as insuring peoples’ kids and providing coverage for those who are already sick – it’s going to cost them something. Most Americans, who still imagine this to be a free market capitalist country, would expect that prices will rise with costs. The alternative is a government-administered insurance industry. We can all imagine how that would turn out.
In effect, the Obama team would like us to think that cost pass-throughs of the new Obamacare mandates are somehow dishonest. That’s because *nothing could better reveal the shortcomings of this program that has been sold to the American people with a lie – that we could insure 31 million Americans without any increase in spending.* Yes – Obamacare raises costs, and we are beginning to see those increased expenses show up in our insurance premiums.
Republicans don’t need a lot of policy bells and whistles to win the coming elections. They simply have to hammer home the truth about Obamacare. It doesn’t “bend the cost curve” on medical outlays, and it does increase the deficit. That pitch will lead to a home run. You can bank on it.
Liz Peek is a columnist for The Fiscal Times and WowOwow; her articles can be found on LizPeek.com.