As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pressed forward with the massive health care overhaul legislation backed by Senate Democrats and President Obama, pushing to obtain the 60 votes necessary to pass his plan on the Senate floor, new studies by independent observers highlighted significant problems with the plan.
Studies by leading nonpartisan firms and independent organizations, including one from the administration’s own actuary, indicate the bill would be harmful both for insurers and the insured. And as more information about the legislation has become public, polling data indicates Americans increasingly oppose the 2,074 page bill under consideration, complicating matters for the White House’s fragile political coalition.
Independent Reports Show Problems
While White House Budget Director Peter Orszag cites cost reductions as a major goal of the legislation, and Obama has repeatedly promised he would only sign health care legislation which is deficit-neutral, the new studies show both the Senate and House bills would fail these tests.
According to a report by Richard Foster, the administration’s Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the health care legislation passed in November by the House of Representatives would actually increase health care costs over the coming decade by almost $300 billion. And according to a report on the Senate version of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, premium costs for those purchasing health care individually would rise by as much as 13 percent.
Hits Insurers, Consumers, Small Businesses
Both reports stress the version of health care reform under consideration will be sustainable only if paired with massive, sustained cuts in Medicare and increased taxes on individuals and small businesses.
According to Susan Eckerly, senior vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business, the legislation is a “disaster for small business.”
“We oppose the [Senate bill] due to the amount of new taxes, the creation of new mandates, and the establishment of new entitlement programs,” Eckerly said in a statement. “There is no doubt all these burdens will be paid for on the backs of small business. It’s clear to us that at the end of the day the costs to small business more than outweigh the benefits they may have realized.”
The public is also voicing rising concerns. Whereas in early October the Gallup polling company found 51 percent of Americans wanted their member of Congress to vote for the bill and only 41 percent would advise voting against it, a poll released November 30 found only 44 percent would support a vote of approval while 49 percent would now want their representative to vote no.
Market Reforms Recommended
Paul M. Hsieh, M.D., cofounder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine in Denver, Colorado, believes insurers and industry will ultimately regret not concentrating on fighting this reform package by arguing for “genuine free market reforms, such as repealing laws banning sales across state lines as well as laws mandating guaranteed issue and community rating.”
“Such reforms could have greatly reduced insurance costs for millions of Americans currently priced out of the market,” Hsieh said. “Instead, they chose to make a deal with the devil and accept new regulations requiring them to cover everyone regardless of preexisting conditions in exchange for a Massachusetts-like individual mandate.”
Twisting Arms in Senate
To pass his version of the legislation, Reid must gain the support of fellow Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, all of whom have raised concerns about the plan. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has already promised to filibuster any bill containing a so-called public option.
Ultimately, says Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), any of the currently proposed health care overhauls will increase premium costs, decrease choice, and increase the federal government’s control.
“For the average American this isn’t about money; it’s about their family’s healthcare,” Shadegg said on a conference call with journalists. “They are going to lose much of what they have—doctors and plans—once this gets passed.”
Ben Domenech ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.