Pub­lic op­tion protru­sions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid reached out to the mother of all gov­ern­ment-run op­tions in a des­per­ate, last-ditch at­tempt to save Pres­i­dent Obama’s health care bill, no mat­ter what the cost.

But Mr. Reid’s Medi­care ex­pan­sion pro­posal was doomed from the start, a vic­tim of his party’s divi­sion over a pub­lic op­tion and fear of bankrupt­ing one of the most po­lit­i­cally sacro­sanct and fi­nan­cially threat­ened pro­grams in the gov­ern­ment.

The idea of en­larg­ing Medi­care by open­ing it up to “buy-ins” among Amer­i­cans 55 or older, and pos­si­bly younger than that, had been kick­ing around for months in House and Se­nate bill-draft­ing ses­sions, only to be dis­carded as a bud­get-buster that would drive an in­sol­vent pro­gram ever more deeply into bank­ruptcy.

By any com­par­i­son, Amer­ica’s pri­vate med­i­cal care sys­tem is a whole lot health­ier than Medi­care will be. The idea of adding Mr. Obama’s $2.5 tril­lion health care plan on top of a moun­tain of un­funded Medi­care li­a­bil­i­ties, the very pro­gram from which Democrats want to rob $400 bil­lion to bankroll their health care scheme, makes no sense at all.

But lib­eral law­mak­ers, glee­ful at the prospect of a his­toric ex­pan­sion of the gov­ern­ment’s big­gest health care pro­gram, were ec­static at the idea, al­though some no doubt didn‘t think Mr. Reid went far enough. Why not put the en­tire coun­try un­der it? But, of course, that’s the ul­ti­mate goal.

Rep. An­thony Weiner, New York Demo­crat, called Mr. Reid’s pro­posal “the mother of all pub­lic op­tions [. . .] Ex­pand­ing Medi­care is an un­var­nished, com­plete victory for peo­ple like me who sup­port a sin­gle-payer sys­tem. Never mind the camel’s nose — we got his head and neck in the tent.”

But at least two Se­nate Demo­cratic Cau­cus mem­bers — enough to kill Mr. Reid’s ef­fort — sig­naled that they could not sup­port such a plan.

“I cer­tainly would have a hard time vot­ing for it be­cause it has some of the same in­fir­mi­ties that the pub­lic op­tion did,” Sen. Joe Lieber­man, Con­necti­cut in­de­pen­dent, said on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” on Dec. 13.

Sen. Ben Nel­son, Ne­braska Demo­crat, also crit­i­cized Mr. Reid’s Medi­care sub­sti­tute for the pub­lic op­tion as “the fore­run­ner of sin­gle-payer, the ul­ti­mate sin­gle-payer plan, maybe even more di­rectly than the pub­lic op­tion” that would fur­ther com­pete with pri­vate in­sur­ance plans.

Much of the news me­dia spun Mr. Reid’s ini­tia­tive as a ma­jor break­through in the Se­nate im­passe, ig­nor­ing Medi­care’s mon­ster debts and Democrats who vowed to vote no on any gov­ern­ment-run op­tion.

The Wash­ing­ton Post, usu­ally lib­eral, shot off a sting­ing ed­i­to­rial against the idea, ti­tled “Medi­care Sausage.” “The only thing more un­set­tling than watch­ing leg­isla­tive sausage be­ing made is watch­ing it be­ing made on the fly. [. . .] The irony of this late-break­ing Medi­care pro­posal is that it could be a big­ger step to­ward a sin­gle-payer sys­tem than the mil­que­toast pub­lic op­tion plans re­jected by Se­nate mod­er­ates as too dis­rup­tive of the pri­vate mar­ket.”

But some­thing equally ir­re­spon­si­ble is go­ing on here. Mr. Reid’s ad hoc leg­isla­tive games­man­ship is based solely on get­ting to 60 votes by sub­sti­tut­ing half-baked, back-burner ideas solely to win sup­port from a tiny band of doubt­ing Democrats to pass the bill, no mat­ter what its un­in­tended con­se­quences.

Work­ing with a small cadre of staff in closed-door back­rooms, no one is looking at the larger pic­ture of the harm that this leg­isla­tive mon­stros­ity will in­flict on peo­ple, busi­ness, and the qual­ity of health care in­no­va­tion and de­liv­ery sys­tems.

The Wall Street Jour­nal said, “It’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter il­lus­tra­tion of the panic and reck­less­ness string­ing Oba­maCare along in the Se­nate than the pu­ta­tive deal that Harry Reid an­nounced in the Se­nate.”

One by one, the power cen­ters of the health care in­dus­try have been send­ing out warn­ings to the Amer­i­can pub­lic, al­though few if any of their fire bell alarms have been re­ported on the evening news.

Health care an­a­lyst GraceMarie Turner of the Galen In­sti­tute put it best when she said Mr. Reid’s last-ditch Medi­care buy-in ploy “has all the same prob­lems that a pub­lic plan does, es­pe­cially be­low-cost pay­ments rates.” Those lower re­im­burse­ment rates will fur­ther squeeze costly hospi­tal health ser­vices and pres­sure doc­tors to take fewer Medi­care pa­tients.

The Mayo Clinic, the finest ex­am­ple of health care at its best, said the plan’s price con- trols would lead to “re­duced ac­cess, com­pro­mised qual­ity and in­creas­ing costs any­way.“

The Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tals said the Medi­care buy-in “would crowd out older work­ers with pri­vate cov­er­age who may choose early re­tire­ment as a re­sult.” The Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion warned the plan would put “peo­ple into a gov­ern­ment pro­gram that is go­ing broke” and cur­tail timely physi­cian avail­abil­ity for the el­derly.

News re­ports that the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice gave its bud­getary seal of ap­proval to the Democrats’ Se­nate bill did not tell the whole story.

CBO said health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums will con­tinue ris­ing and could climb even faster. An anal­y­sis from the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment last week said over­all health care costs would rise more quickly un­der the Reid plan and its $400 bil­lion in Medi­care spending cuts would not cover the bill’s true costs.

Mr. Reid is fo­cused on one goal: pass­ing any bill by Christ­mas. The Amer­i­can peo­ple are fo­cused on re­duc­ing health care costs, which this bill will not do.

Don­ald Lam­bro is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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