Kevin Hassett - One of the more illuminating remarks during the health-care debate in Congress came when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told an audience that Democrats would “pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it, away from the fog of controversy.”
That remark captured the truth that, while many Americans have a vague sense that something bad is happening to their health care, few if any understand exactly what the law does.
To fill this vacuum, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top House Republican on the Joint Economic Committee, asked his staff to prepare a study of the law, including a flow chart that illustrates how the major provisions will work.
The result, made public July 28, provides citizens with a preview of the impact the health-care overhaul will have on their lives. It’s a terrifying road map that shows Democrats have launched America on the most reckless policy experiment in its history, the economic equivalent of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Before discussing what the law means for you, we have to look at what it does to government. That’s where the chart comes in handy. It includes the new fees, bureaucracies and programs and connects them into an organizational chart that accounts for the existing structure. It’s so carefully documented that a line connecting two structures cites the legislative language that created the link.
This clearly is a candidate for most disorganized organizational chart ever. It shows that the health system is complex, yes, but also ornate. The new law creates 68 grant programs, 47 bureaucratic entities, 29 demonstration or pilot programs, six regulatory systems, six compliance standards and two entitlements.
Getting that massive enterprise up and running will be next to impossible. So Democrats streamlined the process by granting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the authority to make judgments that can’t be challenged either administratively or through the courts.
This monarchical protection from challenges is extended as well to the development of new patient-care models under Obama’s controversial recess appointment, Donald Berwick, whom Republicans are calling the rationer-in-chief. Berwick will run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where he can experiment with ways to use administrative fiat to move our system toward the socialized medicine of Europe, which he has at times embraced.
Closer to Home
A sprawling, complex bureaucracy has been set up that will have almost absolute power to dictate terms for participating in the health-care system. That’s what the law does to government. What it does to you is worse.
Based on the administration’s own numbers, as many as 117 million people might have to change their health plans by 2013 as their employer-provided coverage loses its grandfathered status and becomes subject to the new Obamacare mandates.
Those mandates also might make your health care more expensive. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that premiums for a small number of families who buy their insurance privately will rise by as much as $2,100.
The central Obamacare mechanism for increasing insurance coverage is an expansion of the Medicaid program. Of the 30 million new people covered, 16 million will be enrolled in Medicaid. And you could end up in the program whether you want it or not. The bill states that people who apply for coverage through the new exchanges or who apply for premium-subsidy credits will automatically be enrolled in Medicaid if they qualify.
Hurting the Elderly
To pay for this expansion, the bill takes $529 billion from Medicare, with roughly 39 percent of the cut coming from the Medicare Advantage program. This represents a large transfer of resources, sacrificing the care of the elderly in order to increase the Medicaid rolls.
For all this supposed reform, you, the American taxpayer, can expect a bill to the tune of $569 billion.
Front and center among the new taxes is the 40 percent excise tax on those lucky people with so-called Cadillac health plans. The higher insurance costs that are driven by the government mandates will push many more ordinary plans into Cadillac territory.
If the idea of taxing people with coverage deemed too good doesn’t bother you, maybe the new 3.8 percent tax on investment income will. That will apply even to a small number of home sales, those that generate $250,000 in profit for an individual or $500,000 for a married couple.
In vivid color and detail, Congressman Brady’s chart captures the huge expansion of government coming under Obamacare. Harder to show on paper is the pain it will cause.
(Kevin Hassett, director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is a Bloomberg News columnist. He was an adviser to Republican Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. The opinions expressed are his own.)