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Health Care in the New Year Same Old Hollow Promises?

Promising Americans more benefits, less debt and long-awaited transparency, without a hefty price tag has proven difficult for the President and Congress. On the campaign trail, President Obama promised the American people, no less than eight times, that health care negotiations would be televised on C-SPAN for all Americans to see what their members of Congress fought for in the bill. But to date the President is yet to deliver on his promise to make this administration the most open and transparent in history. More substantively, he has also failed to be open about the costs of health care reform and how these costs will affect taxpayers, patients, and businesses. Setting aside the public plan, which would drive out current coverage for millions of Americans, there are still a host of problematic provisions in the House and Senate bills. Here are a few of the more glaring issues with health care legislation that have survived 2009.
The Individual Mandate
On the campaign trail, the President opposed a mandate on individuals to purchase health insurance (or pay a fine). He understood at the time that, We can anticipate that there would also be people potentially who are not covered and are actually hurt if they have a mandate imposed on them. We now have an individual mandate in both the House and Senate bills, but we also now know that his concerns over the mandate are justified. According to the Presidents Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Senate plan would cost 19 million Americans over $29 billion in taxes and fines and they wouldnt receive any health care in return. In addition, there is the basic question of whether it is even constitutional for the federal government to require its citizens to buy a product.

Numerous Tax Hikes
In February of 2009, President Obama pledged, If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. Contradicting that claim, both the House and Senate bills include numerous taxes that will impact Americans regardless of income. The House bill includes a new surtax that would affect millions of small business owners. The Senate bill includes a new tax on high-end, so-called Cadillac, health plans, in which Americans from all income levels participate. These bills also impose taxes on various products and services — from medical devices to tanning beds which will undoubtedly be passed on to consumers at every income level. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates the Senate bill would result in almost $400 billion in new taxes over the next ten years.

The Deficit Neutrality Gimmick
In September of last year, President Obama promised the American people: I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits either now or in the future. Period. Even the Presidents most ardent supporters are now admitting the Senate bill is full of budget gimmicks to make it appear Obamacare will reduce the deficit. By collecting revenue for the first few years while also withholding the promised benefits, the Senate bill does not paint the full long-term cost picture. When adjustments are made to account for that gimmick, the cost of Obamacare comes to $2.5 trillion. The true cost of the bill, however, pushes the total even higher and erases any claim of bringing down the deficit.

The Hidden Public Option Alternative
Currently, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) oversees the health care plans for federal employees. OPM serves the role of an employer and administers a program of federal health insurance to federal employees. It serves as a neutral umpire, with a primary regulatory role of ensuring consumer protections. However, under the Senate bill, this federal agency will become the sponsor of at least two federal plans, and it would be able to set the premiums for the plans it sponsors. That means that the federal government would field its own team competing against private health plans in the states, and the Senate bill also allocates such sums as may be necessary to carry out this section. The new power and the authority to use taxpayer funds could make the less publicized OPM options similar to the public option.

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