Friday, October 30, 2009

A 1,990-Page Medical Monstrosity



Medical Care: Speaker Nancy Pelosi's cry in unveiling the House's massive reform bill might as well have been "Viva la health care revolution!" America never voted for change like this.

Just as most congressional Democrats refused to listen to the angry public at town halls in the summer, Speaker Pelosi was not interested in ordinary Americans attending the outdoor rally on the West Front of the Capitol, where she and her fellow House Democrats rolled out their 1,990-page monster health reform bill on Thursday.

YouTube recorded someone not on the RSVP list being refused entry and asking a staffer why the announcement of legislation that will radically affect the lives of all Americans isn't open to the public. "Because that's how we're handling this event," she told him.

Truth be told, most lawmakers are excluded too. As the Hudson Institute's Hanns Kuttner noted on the National Review Web site, you would have to devour 221 pages a day to have read this life-changing legislation in its entirety before it comes to a vote, promised for before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Weeks after its unveiling, new tricks are still being discovered within the Senate health bill. Kaiser Health News' Julie Appleby reported Thursday that, despite claims the bill will limit what those in the lower and middle income groups will pay for health insurance, "The fine print shows that, over time, the premium costs could rise well beyond those caps."

The reason for this, Appleby explains, is "the cost of coverage would shift from a percentage of income to a percentage of the premium, no matter how high the premiums go." This will be a big, unpleasant surprise for the working middle class.

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson on Wednesday revealed that the Senate bill's excise tax on "Cadillac" plans "targets a lot of Chevy plans as well." The tax follows a formula based on the consumer price index plus 1%. But if medical costs and insurance premiums rise significantly higher than the CPI — a near sure thing — a lot more plans get taxed.

Reminiscent of the Alternative Minimum Tax, a measure to soak the rich will end up drowning Joe Sixpack. Meyerson warns: "If employers opt for cheaper policies to avoid the excise taxes on more-expensive plans, their savings may not be passed on to workers as higher wages but simply kept by the employers. Out-of-pocket health costs for workers would rise, but into-pocket wage increases to cover those costs might not be forthcoming."

What similar horrors await detection within Nancy Pelosi's 1,990-page behemoth? Time will tell, but it may take a lot more time than the 13 days House Democrats are giving America to digest this revolutionary proposal.

We already know it contains an aggressive version of the government-run public option, and the 39 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies warned after the Thursday unveiling of "devastating consequences."

"Millions of people would lose their current private coverage they are happy with," the companies warned. "In addition, the government will underpay providers — even if negotiated rates are initially used — creating major access issues, including long waits for services, with some providers closing their doors."

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association also pointed out how any "government-run plan will use its built-in advantages — no matter how it is initially structured — to take over the market" through "price-setting based on Medicare" or by using "existing government programs as leverage for negotiations."

A government option would also enjoy "many financial advantages right from the start, including an exemption from federal and state taxes and other assessments that private plans must pay, immunity from state lawsuits, as well as a host of other state rules and regulations." Plus it will get "at least $2 billion in startup capital."

The insurers also warn that the young would see their premiums rise 69% on average, according to research by the Oliver Wyman actuarial firm. Americans for Tax Reform detailed 13 new taxes the House health bill would create, from a 5.4% surtax on individuals and small businesses to a 2.5% excise tax on medical devices.

Both the House and the Senate are set to wreck the greatest health care system in the world — unless those now taking it for granted raise a ruckus, and fast.

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