July 3, 2009

July 3, 2009 | Commentary on Health Care

Covering the Uninsured Shouldn't Cost $1.5 Trillion Dollars

According to a recent analysis by the Census Bureau, about 2.5 million New Yorkers lack health insurance. This means they're living day to day, hoping they won't get sick and need to visit the doctor's office. Otherwise, they'll be on the hook for the entire cost of the visit.

A startling picture, indeed. Unfortunately here in Washington, D.C., some politicians are seizing on this predicament to advance a health care agenda that would make things even worse. Their "prescription" would push millions of Americans into a government program that would cost us an exorbitant amount of money while severely reducing consumer freedoms and quality of care.

It seems like many in Congress are taking their cues from President Obama's chief of staff, who famously quipped, "Never let a crisis go to waste." True to form, some lawmakers have been working behind closed doors to craft mind-numbingly complex bills with myriad rules, regulates, mandates and restrictions, telling you what you can and cannot have, specifying your health benefits and what your co-payments will be.

All the while, President Obama is insisting that his health reform won't lead to a government takeover of health care. Senate Democrats are turning to the "liberal lion," Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, for inspiration and guidance.

Informally known as the Kennedy-Dodd bill, this piece of legislation comes closest to what congressional liberals really want. It is sprinkled with subsidies and mandates. But it's also hugely expensive. A recent analysis by the non partisan Congressional Budget Office was a sobering reminder of the cost likely to be incurred under this approach.

According to the CBO, the legislation would add $1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, while covering only about 16 million more people with health insurance. For that amount of money, we could simply write checks to all of the uninsured.

Another Senate Democratic proposal, the Senate Finance Committee bill, is expected to cost $1.5 trillion. That's a lot of money. In fact, if one were to have spent a million dollars every year since the time of Jesus' birth, it would still not come to a trillion dollars.

Of course, this liability would be on top of the government's unfunded liabilities -- benefits already promised but not paid for -- of Social Security and Medicare. And Medicaid, which costs about $350 billion annually, is one of the most expensive programs in the country that delivers some of the poorest care in the country.

Incredibly, too many in Congress appear unfazed at the thought of spending such an amount. This is like charging a million dollars on our credit cards and not worrying about how to pay the bill.

The truth is that providing health insurance to the millions of Americans doesn't need to cost our country $1.5 trillion. And it also doesn't need to severely limit consumer choice and quality of care.

Under the Kennedy-Dodd bill and similar bills, the federal government would assume an even greater role than it does now by putting federal bureaucrats in control of health care decision-making. The reason? Under a public health insurance plan, the government is at the driver's seat, deciding what type of healthcare works best for you. Because Congress would rig the competition in favor of its own public plan, millions of Americans would eventually be forced into it. Private insurance would wither and die. There would be less competition and even fewer choices than there is today.

Additionally, it seems as if issues crucial to the welfare of Hispanic workers are on the back burner. Since many Hispanics work in small businesses, they need health insurance that is both affordable and portable. Workers should be able to own and control health policies, just like auto insurance, or life insurance, and take those policies from job to job. If they need direct help, they should get it. This can be achieved either through tax credits or a new system of premium support, especially for low-income workers that would guarantee affordable health care.

Insuring the uninsured shouldn't have to bankrupt our country. By reforming the tax system and addressing the inequities under the current system, we can work toward providing greater health care options for all while ensuring that the quality of care doesn't suffer.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
Accounting

Related Issues: Health Care

First Appeared in El Diario La Prensa