The Commercial Appeal
Brace for health insurance sticker shock
“Exactly one year ago today, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a fateful decision to uphold the controversial centerpiece of the president’s health care law. At the center of the debate was whether Congress had the authority to force every American to buy health insurance.
The court’s majority chose to rely on the congressional power to levy taxes in order to uphold the law. But in clarifying that the “individual mandate” was indeed a tax, its decision revealed what marketers might call a classic bait-and-switch. During the health care debate, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats had vehemently denied that the mandate amounted to a tax.
Like the high court, Americans have recognized that the president’s health care law is far from what its supporters once advertised.
Public approval has dropped to record lows, and anxiety about higher costs continues to grow. According to a recent survey, only 19 percent of Americans believe the law will help their families. Another poll found more than half of Americans long for the country’s pre- Obamacare days.
The warning signs were there from the beginning. Enacted by Democratic supermajorities, the 2,700-page bill was a formula for government overreach rather than real reform. Job creators in communities across the country already cite the law’s regulatory uncertainty, burdensome requirements and new taxes as obstacles to hiring. Families in Mississippi and Tennessee are worried about how much higher premiums will cut into their household budgets.
Now even some of the most ardent supporters are losing faith, calling the law’s rollout a “huge train wreck” and “beyond comprehension.” It’s no wonder: The law’s regulations cover a towering 20,000 pages, and it will take tens of thousands of government workers to build and operate the bureaucratic machine. According to the Treasury Inspector General, Americans are about to see “the largest set of tax law changes in more than 20 years.”
Last year’s Supreme Court ruling on the “individual mandate” tax was only the tip of the iceberg. The scandal-plagued Internal Revenue Service will play an alarmingly central role in overseeing the health care law’s taxes and subsidies, including compliance with the law’s employer mandate for businesses with as few as 50 employees to provide government- approved plans.
The recent disclosure that the IRS unjustly targeted conservative groups applying for taxexempt status has cast doubt on the suitability of the agency to help execute the health care law, which will raise taxes by an estimated $1 trillion in its first decade. Not only will the agency have to collect reams of additional taxpayer information, but the supervisor assigned to lead its health care office is the same person who directed the division responsible for the political targeting.
Unfortunately, there is little time to reverse the health care law’s collision course. Key provisions are supposed to be up and running in fewer than 100 days, and enforcement of the individual mandate is set to go into effect next year. Rather than fanfare, the rollout has been fraught with incessant delays, public confusion and overspending.
Two recently released reports from the independent Government Accountability Office are the latest in a litany of troubling news. The sobering reviews suggest that the severe lack of progress could jeopardize the start of open enrollment on Oct. 1.
Particularly problematic is the establishment of “exchanges,” where many Americans will be expected to go online and enroll in a governmentmandated and bureaucrat-approved health care plan. The federal government is responsible for running the exchanges in most states, including in Mississippi and Tennessee. Alongside concerns about enrollment, many insurers doubt the exchanges will offer true options, affordability or competition in the health care market.
Republicans in both chambers of Congress have long championed market- driven and patient-focused measures for health care reform. I remain committed to taking this flawed law off the books.
In just the past six months, I have co-sponsored half-a- dozen bills to repeal all or part of the law. Earlier this year, I offered an amendment to the Senate’s fiscal year 2014 budget resolution to defund the law’s $1.8 trillion in new spending.
Congress cannot ignore the broken promises of this massive overhaul of our health care system. American families have watched their insurance premiums rise by nearly $2,500, despite the president’s repeated assurances that they would decrease. Many fear they will lose their preferred insurance plan . Come next year, sticker shock seems inevitable for consumers of both the state-based exchanges and the individual market.
More taxes, higher premiums and fewer choices are not the hallmarks of real health care reform. With so many disappointments, it is increasingly clear this bad policy must go.