Who Wants This Healthcare 'Reform'?

As Democratic legislators continue on the path toward health care “reform”, one has to wonder if there is even a single Democratic senator who might ask some basic questions:  Who wants these changes and why? What is an appropriate way to make the changes?  And what will the effect of the changes be?

The answers to each of these questions point to legislation that should not pass — particularly not this way — and which is likely to make our health system’s problems, particularly cost, far worse.  

Certain special interests, such as the AARP and trial lawyers, see current “reform” proposals as opening new profit opportunities for them. And lovers of big government have always salivated at the idea of politicians and bureaucrats controlling the biggest single sector of the US economy and the most important aspect of Americans’ lives, their health.  But when it comes to the public, the polls are clear: Current Democratic plans are becoming increasingly unpopular as they become better understood.

A Rasmussen Reports poll released last week shows 49% of voters rating the US health care system as good or excellent. According to Rasmussen, “That marks a steady increase from 44% at the beginning of October, 35% in May and 29% a year-and-a-half ago.” A Gallup poll shows almost identical results in percentage terms, with the percentage of respondents who rate the American health care system excellent or good far above any prior reading during the 9 years Gallup has been asking the question.

This 50% increase in 18 months in the number of people who have a favorable opinion of the health care system shows the Democrats are posing a threat to something Americans hold dear.  After all, polls for years have shown Americans to be satisfied with their health insurance coverage.  A 2006 study showed 89% of insured Americans satisfied with our medical care (and a majority of the uninsured also satisfied with their care.)  Other studies since then consistently support that key finding. Much like the definition of a recession being your neighbor losing his job and a depression being you losing your job, Americans supported the idea of health care “reform” until they realized it would change their current situations, not just somebody else’s.

Democrats emphasize “universal coverage.” However fewer than one fifth of voters believe that should be the primary goal of health insurance reform.  The problem identified as the key issue by over 60% of those polled is cost.  But more than three times as many voters believe the Democrats’ current proposals will increase health care prices rather than contain them.  While the majority isn’t always right, it is clear they are correct here. For example, one of the largest insurers says that premiums for many Americans will more than double. For young, healthy adults, premiums are likely to triple.  The public is also realizing the shell game Democrats are playing by using 10 years of tax hikes to pay for 6 years of health care “reform”.

So what do you get when you combine relative satisfaction with the current system, an interest in cost control rather than universal coverage, and a Democratic plan which attacks what’s working and exacerbates what isn’t? You get a solid majority of likely voters against the current plans, with the most recent Rasmussen result showing opposition to Democratic “reform” at 53% versus 41% support, the second-biggest disapproval gap since polling began in June (with the biggest just a week earlier.)

And yet, we have a situation where passage of reform is likely to come down to the question of whether one single Democratic senator will vote with the majority of Americans.  This brings us to the next question: What is the appropriate way to pass legislation as enormous as this?  If history is any guide, what Reid and Pelosi are doing is not the answer.

There has never been a sweeping creation or reform of an entitlement plan passed along party lines. Indeed, it has rarely been even close:

•    The 1935 Social Security Act passed the House with 81 out of 102 Republicans voting for it.  In the Senate, it got 16 “Yes” votes from Republicans versus 5 no votes (and 4 not voting.)
•    The 1956 Social Security Amendments which created Social Security’s disability program received 169 ‘Yes” votes from House Republicans versus 23 “No” votes, with a Senate GOP tally of 44-0 in favor.

•    The 1965 Medicare Act (officially the Social Security Amendments of 1965) received 13 Republican votes in the Senate (out of a possible 32) and 70 Republican votes in the House (out of a possible 140).
•    Bill Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform Act, officially the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, while not nearly as significant as these other entitlement creations and which cut back an entitlement rather than creating one, garnered 30 Democratic votes in the House and, more significantly, 23 Democratic votes in the Senate.

Regardless of one’s views of the merits of current “reform” proposals, how can it be appropriate to pass nearly 2,100 nation-changing pages regulating more than 1/6th of the American economy, increasing taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars, and inserting government into one of the most private aspects of most Americans’ lives, on party-line votes?  

And finally, even if the proposals were supported by the public and even if they could get bipartisan support in Congress, shouldn’t one ask what their effect would be?  There have been several attempts by states to implement government-run universal health care. They have all been failures to one degree or another. Tennessee’s TennCare had to remove 190,000 participants in 2005 to keep the system from going bankrupt. According to a 2007 study of TennCare, “In the last 13 years, the total budget of TennCare grew from the initial $2.64 billion per year to over $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2005 while the total enrollment remained relatively stable, hovering around 1.3 million people.”  Yes, the price tag tripled without adding new participants.  Maine’s Dirigo health plan, though much smaller, is similarly bankrupting the state.

But the most visible state government-run health care plan is Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Care. The plan, soon to be Mitt Romney’s political albatross, was supposed to control health care costs while expanding coverage in the Bay State.  While it’s true that over 95% of the state’s residents are covered, the plan is on the brink of implosion: Not only does Massachusetts have the nation’s highest health insurance premiums; it also has the fastest rising premiums with at least one large insurer planning to raise rates by 10% in 2010.  Subsidies to help lower-income residents with insurance costs are expected to reach $1.3 billion in 2011, doubling in just 4 years.

And what are they getting for their money in Massachusetts?  Boston has by far the longest waiting time in the nation to see a doctor, with a recent study showing a 50-day wait. For comparison, the second longest average wait was 27 days in Philadelphia.  Boston’s waiting time to see a family practice physician averages an astonishing 63 days.  

If any Democratic senator were reflecting on these basic questions about the massive legislation before them, he could not help but conclude that the Reid-Pelosi-Obama plan is not wanted by the public, cannot be passed other than on a party-line vote which is decidedly outside of American tradition for entitlement creation and reform, and will do great damage to a health care system that, for all its flaws, is well-liked by American voters.  Knowing all that, it’s clear what to expect next: Reid and Pelosi will nevertheless try to shove their government takeover of health care down America’s throat, the public be damned.