This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published November 21, 2011 in The Washington Times.
In March, the Supreme Court will hear the challenge by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business to the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. A ruling is expected by midsummer.
Although many provisions don’t kick in until 2014, this 2,700-page mess is already giving America’s health care system a bad cold, which will morph into pneumonia if the law is not overturned. A few of the symptoms already have emerged:
Adding costs: Some doctors are charging patients extra fees for basic services such as processing forms. Without malpractice tort reform, which Obamacare rejected, doctors themselves are facing higher insurance fees along with anticipated bureaucratic regulatory costs.
Reducing coverage: Faced with a mandate to ignore pre-existing conditions, insurance companies have dropped child-only coverage.
Hiking premiums: Health insurance premiums have risen across the board by an average of 9 percent in 2011, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, with Obamacare accounting for about 20 percent of that increase. Costs are slated to rise annually under Obamacare. In 2014, a new tax on fully private health coverage plans kicks in, raising costs another few percentage points. President Obama’s promise during an interview with AARP in July 2009 that, “If you are happy with the health care you’ve got, then keep it” should become the signature punch line for late-night comedians.
Enriching D.C. firms: An army of lobbyists has made millions hounding Washington lawmakers, and the lobbying continues. In 2009 and 2010, 1,251 organizations reported that they had employed lobbyists for and against various provisions of Obamacare, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Violating federalism: More than half of the states are in open rebellion, with many refusing to create federally mandated state exchanges and 27 states (the 26 plus Virginia in another case) are suing the federal government.
Unilaterally ignoring part of a law: In October, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius scrapped the long-term care program known as the CLASS Act, which the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy had championed as a cost-saving measure while conservatives claimed that it would break the bank. The Obama administration finally found CLASS’ budget-busting reality too much to ignore. Conservatives cheered.
But wait. How can the administration toss aside a provision in a law passed by Congress and signed by the president? The White House does not have authority to order a do-over. Just because conservatives rightly oppose this boondoggle does not mean its demise came through a constitutionally sound remedy.
Picking winners and losers: More than 1,000 waivers were issued, exempting groups from a rule prohibiting them from offering maximum payouts to individuals of less than $750,000. The waivers were all over the place, going to the Cracker Barrel and Ruby Tuesday restaurant chains, the Chickasaw Nation, Aspen Snowmass, the Maharishi University of Management, the Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa and big insurers such as Aetna. As the Daily Caller reported, 38 out of 204 waivers granted in April went to restaurants, nightclubs and hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district.
Dozens went to unions that heavily supported Mr. Obama’s election campaign. The largest was snagged by the American Federation of Teachers, with 351,000 members covered. Waivers also went to the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Communications Workers of America, the Laborers’ Union and United Food and Commercial Workers.
After a wave of public criticism, the waiver program was halted, with no new applicants or extension requests accepted after Sept. 22. “Millions of Americans are now in plans that cannot impose annual limits below $750,000, and that limit will increase in the coming years until 2014 when no annual dollar limits will be permitted for non-grandfathered plans,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Translation: If you’re not in by now, you’re out of luck.
Killing jobs: Fearing higher mandated costs, many companies are laying off employees or delaying new hiring. Shortly after Obamacare was signed into law in March 2010, firms such as Caterpillar, John Deere and AT&T announced that it would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars, which would lead to layoffs. Back in February, testifying before the House Budget Committee, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf conservatively estimated that Obamacare could lead to “a reduction of 800,000 workers” over the next decade as employees who switch to government health care decide to work fewer hours or quit.
Employers are also facing immediate adjustments. Here’s an example: More than 700,000 Americans have hip or knee replacements each year, and as baby boomers age, the numbers are likely to rise. Michigan-based Stryker Corp. makes many of those devices, but thanks to a tax provision tucked into Obamacare, Stryker faces nearly $100 million in new costs starting in 2013. So the company has announced it will begin laying off 1,000 employees. In rust-belt Michigan, that’s a very unhealthy development.
In March, Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, sponsored the Health Care Waiver Fairness Act (H.R. 984), which basically would exempt every American from Obamacare, but it hasn’t made it out of committee. Back in January, the full House passed the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act (H.R. 2) sponsored by Majority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, which would have nullified Obamacare. It was euthanized on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s operating table.
While we all wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in, Obamacare is lurching across the nation’s health care system like Frankenstein’s monster, leaving destruction in its wake. It’s not just the costs, but the top-down concept. Obamacare effectively turns free citizens into dependents of an overweening government.
Let’s hope and pray the court sends Obamacare into cardiac arrest so America’s economy – and promise of individual liberty – can get into the recovery room.