Re­port from 2016

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Mona Charen

Want a glimpse of what the Oba­macare bat­tle will look like in 2015? Just glance at lib­eral web­sites. You’ll find a trove of insurance com­pany bash­ing. Are insurance premi­ums ris­ing in­stead of fall­ing by the $2,500 per fam­ily that Mr. Obama re­peat­edly promised in 2009? They are. If you consult ThinkPro­gess, Daily Kos and Physi­cians for a Na­tional Health Pro­gram, you’ll learn that it’s the “greedy insurance com­pa­nies” that are caus­ing prices to rise, not the ris­i­bly ti­tled, “Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act.”

You can take this to the bank: In the run-up to the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Democrats will be in thor­ough blameshift­ing mode. It wasn’t the per­verse in­cen­tives, byzan­tine com­plex­ity, new taxes and lay­ers of bu­reau­cracy built into Oba­macare, they’ll in­sist. It was heart­less health in­sur­ers who were will­ing to let peo­ple die rather than ac­cept a lower profit mar­gin.

Mr. Obama has al­ready shown the way. Stump­ing for Oba­macare in 2010, he said, “(They’ll) keep on do­ing this for as long as they can get away with it. This is no se­cret. They’re telling their in­vestors this — ‘We are in the money. We are go­ing to keep on mak­ing big prof­its even though a lot of folks are go­ing to be put un­der hard­ship.’”

That’s just the way busi­ness­men talk, isn’t it? Only in the imag­in­ings of the anti-busi­ness left. In any case, the other shoe to drop, af­ter the de­mo­niza­tion of the in­dus­try, will be the same so­lu­tion Democrats pro­pose for ev­ery­thing — more gov­ern­ment. Oba­macare will be said to have failed be­cause pri­vate com­pa­nies put prof­its ahead of peo­ple. The “so­lu­tion” will be sin­gle-payer.

Let’s not weep for the health insurance com­pa­nies. They could have en­er­get­i­cally op­posed Oba­macare, and they chose not to. As Ti­mothy Car­ney of the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner ex­plained, it was in their in­ter­est to sup­port a law that would 1) re­quire ev­ery­one to pur­chase their prod­uct and 2) pro­vide sub­si­dies di­rectly to insurance com­pa­nies to help peo­ple pay for it. As Mr. Car­ney wrote: “Would you be sur­prised to hear of corn farm­ers sup­port­ing ethanol sub­si­dies?” There were as­pects of the law the insurance in­dus­try protested, but for the most part, they were con­tent to be tamely trans­formed into a reg­u­lated pub­lic util­ity.

The health care sys­tem that pre­dated Oba­macare was al­ready so dis­torted by gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies, reg­u­la­tions and tax in­cen­tives as to be quasi state-run. True re­form would rip that gov­ern­ment IV out of the na­tion’s arm al­to­gether and en­cour­age more com­pe­ti­tion, not less. True re­form would re­move the tax de­duc­tions handed to em­ploy­ers 60 years ago and give them to in­di­vid­u­als in­stead. True re­form would per­mit in­di­vid­u­als to shop na­tion­wide for the best plan and would per­mit com­pa­nies to of­fer truly cat­a­strophic plans for the young and healthy. True re­form would cre­ate high-risk pools to pro­vide for those with chronic con­di­tions.

As the ex­am­ples of the insurance in­dus­try and the corn grow­ers demon­strate, it’s a mis­take to rely on the busi­ness sec­tor to pro­mote free en­ter­prise. Some busi­ness­men do, but many are happy to en­gage in rent seek­ing from the state. Farm­ers, uni­ver­si­ties, banks, con­struc­tion com­pa­nies, green en­ergy firms, car com­pa­nies, the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try — the list of sup­pli­cants for tax­payer sub­si­dies is end­less.

Repub­li­cans are per­ceived (and of­ten see them­selves) as the probusi­ness party. They should think of them­selves as pro-con­sumer in­stead.

Still, Repub­li­cans do un­der­stand the ba­sics of sup­ply and de­mand bet­ter than Democrats, and many pre­dicted the prob­lems Oba­macare is al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. They un­der­stood, as Mr. Obama and his sup­port­ers ap­par­ently did not, that the laws of eco­nom­ics are not op­tional. You can­not ex­tend health care to 30 or 40 or 50 mil­lion peo­ple (the num­ber kept chang­ing) who pre­vi­ously lacked it and bring down to­tal health spend­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously. You can­not force insurance com­pa­nies to ac­cept all cus­tomers re­gard­less of pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions and ex­pect that premi­ums will not rise to cover the ex­pense.

Fur­ther, once peo­ple re­al­ize that insurance com­pa­nies can­not re­ject them when they be­come sick, the in­cen­tive to pur­chase health insurance among the healthy pop­u­la­tion dis­ap­pears. (The small fine for fail­ure to buy insurance will not com­pen­sate.) You can­not man­date that em­ploy­ers with more than 50 full-time em­ploy­ees pro­vide gov­ern­ment ap­proved insurance with­out caus­ing em­ploy­ers to shift to part-time em­ploy­ees or de­cline to hire. You can­not im­pose a “Cadil­lac tax” with­out em­ploy­ers rais­ing premi­ums or re­duc­ing their cov­er­age.

The Democrats’ re­form of the health care sys­tem is stum­bling into a pre­dictable and pre­dicted morass. Democrats will in­evitably con­clude that this calls for even more gov­ern­ment. Repub­li­cans should side with con­sumers.

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