Democrats’ Strategy: Fake Center, Go Left

During his recent media blitz to tout the Democratic health care plan, President Obama tried to frame the debate by asking: “What’s the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another?”

Good questions. A quick look at Sen. Max Baucus’ reform proposal, which President Obama has largely endorsed, reveals how Democratic reformers would answer. They’ll come down hard on the side of greater government control of Americans’ health care. That will have disastrous consequences for patients and taxpayers alike.

Sen. Baucus has tried to maintain an imprimatur of centrism by cutting the controversial “public option” from his plan. Indeed, he immodestly describes his plan as “a balanced, common-sense plan that takes the best ideas from both sides.”

But he’s replaced the public option with something equally bad — a network of government-funded nonprofit health insurance cooperatives. These co-ops would pose many of the same drawbacks as the public option.

Baucus’ plan would seed this network of state or regional co-ops with $6 billion of taxpayer funds. Explicit government funding and implicit government protection from bankruptcy would allow the co-ops to offer coverage at artificially low prices. This would ultimately force private insurers out of business and result in a health sector dominated by government-chartered plans.

Baucus claims that reforms like the co-ops are needed to bring down health care costs. But at the same time, he guarantees higher health care costs for ordinary patients by imposing new taxes on “Cadillac-style” health plans, insurers, biotech firms, drugmakers, and medical technology companies. These costs will be passed on to consumers, as health care firms raise prices to compensate for the taxes.

Further, such taxes will leave less money for research into treatments for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and AIDS. This is bad news not only for patients suffering from deadly diseases but also for those looking to trim health care costs over the long term.

Just imagine how much money we could save if medical researchers developed an AIDS vaccine. Right now, many AIDS regimens cost more than $30,000 per patient per year. A vaccine, once off patent, would cost just pennies.

Baucus and his allies also plan to dictate patients’ insurance choices through a series of government-run, state-based “exchanges.” These exchanges would function as online marketplaces where individuals and small businesses could shop for private insurance. Sure sounds like a consumer-friendly reform.

But there’s a catch. The federal government would set minimum coverage standards for policies sold on the exchanges. And those standards would render many policies in place today illegal.

Say you currently own a policy that features low premiums but a high deductible. Under the Baucus plan, such policies would likely be illegal.

Ultimately, the Democrats’ plan is rooted in a desire to hand even more control of the health sector over to the government — not on advancing patients’ and consumers’ interests. It’s no wonder the American people are beginning to look askance at their health reform efforts.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 56% of Americans are either “not too confident” or “not confident at all” that health care reform can be paid for entirely through cost savings.

The same poll showed that 60% of Americans don’t believe that the president’s plan will expand coverage to nearly all Americans without lowering health care quality or raising taxes on the middle class.

And a Rasmussen poll this week showed that only 41% of voters favor the health care reform proposed by President Obama and the Democrats. Fifty-six percent are opposed to the plan.

Americans have noticed the growing disconnect between Democrats’ centrist rhetoric and their vision for a government-dominated health sector. Faking to the center and then veering left may be an effective strategy for our basketball-crazy president on the hardwood, but it’s no way for him and his party to fashion health policy.

Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care.”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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