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August 13, 2010

Repair? No, Repeal ObamaCare

By

The "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" was hardly the most popular bill when President Obama signed it into law in March. And its appeal has only declined since then.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid muscled the telephone-book-size bill through Congress by the narrowest of partisan margins, most major surveys found only a minority of Americans believed the country would be better off because of its passage. Most Americans weren't buying the official line: that the law would curve health care spending downward and reduce the deficit.

The latest polls show that six out of 10 American voters favor outright repeal of ObamaCare. And who can blame them? Who really believes that over the next 10 years Congress will enhance the solvency of Medicare, create two new entitlement programs, secure an estimated $575 billion in "savings" through Medicare payment cuts, preserve access to Medicare benefits, spend an additional $1 trillion to expand coverage and reduce the deficit? If you do, congratulations - you qualify for membership in the Flat Earth Society.

Nonetheless, ObamaCare is the law of the land. There's a sense of fait accompli in Washington policy circles, a fatalistic resignation to some historically inevitable implementation of this behemoth over the next eight years. Well, not so fast. Take a trip down memory lane. Back in 1988, Congress enacted the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act to expand benefits for seniors.

President Reagan, who supported the bill despite some misgivings over cost, signed it into law. Unlike ObamaCare, it passed with huge majorities in the House and Senate and enjoyed tremendous popular support.

Like ObamaCare, it was big stuff. It was the largest expansion in the Medicare program since 1965, when Medicare was created. Like ObamaCare, it contained all sorts of benefits, including a new prescription drug benefit. Everyone who was anyone in Washington backed the bill: high-powered K Street lobbyists, captains of the health care industry, the ubiquitous health policy experts, and, of course, AARP.

Yet only one year later, the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act was repealed. How did it happen?

Things quickly turned out to be very different from what people expected. Most seniors already had drug coverage that they liked through supplemental insurance coverage. But Congress - knowing better, of course - was forcing them to pay for the drug benefit with standardized deductibles and co-payments, combined with an income-based premium that functioned as surtax - adding up to $1,600 per couple for the new drug benefit.

In effect, Congress was making Americans buy benefits they already had, or didn't want, and at a higher price. Seniors revolted. A grass-roots rebellion spread, highlighted by unforgettable "action news" footage of elderly citizens chasing Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, trying to escape the scene in his car in downtown Chicago. The 1988 Medicare law affected only 32 million Americans. But the 2010 ObamaCare affects all 300 million Americans. And many are greatly concerned.

Take the president's claim that if you like your current health plan and benefits, nothing will change. It's transparently untrue. Recent media reports confirm that half of all "grandfathered" health plans will change under the Obama administration's draft regulations. And independent analysts, including the government Actuary at the Department of Health and Human Services, have projected that millions of Americans will lose or be transitioned out of their employer-based coverage. ObamaCare was sold as a measure to reduce costs, reduce family insurance premiums, and improve the affordability of coverage for businesses.

Costs and premiums are going to go up; not down. ObamaCare met the CBO deficit reduction targets on shaky assumptions insisted upon by the congressional leadership. Nonetheless, the CBO recently revealed that its projections for the final 10-year cost of the bill were off by a $115 billion.

ObamaCare can be repealed. Unlike the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988, a model of congressional deliberation by comparison, ObamaCare was enacted by a narrow partisan majority, with provisions quickly slapped together to meet artificial political deadlines. Lawmakers arrogantly dismissed the legitimate concerns of a majority of their fellow countrymen. The damage and the disruption of this ill-conceived $1 trillion law are already hitting the outlying institutions of the vast health care sector of the economy. The torture of its costly implementation is stretched out over eight years. Americans can tolerate a lot, but that's probably too much.

Robert Moffit is senior fellow in the Center for Health Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

First moved on the McClatchy News Wire service

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