A Bill of Goods, Maybe

The trouble with the health care bill


For many, the health care reform debate has only reinforced a number of richly deserved stereotypes regarding the workings of Congress and the synergetic crookedness of big government and big business.

There's a little something for everyone, really. (And for the utterly gullible, there is a shimmering new make-believe birthright to go along with the mess.)

This week, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa claimed passage of reform would mean our nation had crossed the "demarcation line" that would transform health care from a "privilege" to a "right."

Which is absolutely true if your definition of a "right" happens to be "do it or else."

Beleaguered citizens would deal with all the same anxieties they wrestled with before reform—a lack of portability, rising costs, and so on—while enjoying a new, inalienable right to buy insurance in an uncompetitive marketplace with no downward pressure on prices.

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Senate would increase overall health care spending by more than $200 billion between 2010 and 2019—a striking accomplishment considering the bill wouldn't even kick in until 2013.

At the same time, those scandalous profit-mongering insurance outfits that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called "villains" and President Barack Obama referred to as greedy would have the right to enrich themselves with millions of new customers via mandate on individuals.

Though most of the bill's provisions wouldn't be triggered until 2013, it doesn't mean Americans wouldn't have a right to pay taxes before that time. Paying taxes isn't only a right; it's patriotic.

The Senate bill would create more than a dozen new taxes and fees—some of them scheduled years before reform's righteousness could fully bloom. And if you've purchased one of those elaborate Cadillac health insurance plans—and aren't you selfish?—you would have the right to be charged a 40 percent excise tax for thinking you're special.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that up to 10 million of you would have the right to no longer be covered by your private employers (independent groups put this number higher), despite the president's fictitious promise that no one would surrender his insurance coverage under his watch.

It's true, too, that if you couldn't afford health insurance, you would have the right to get it free. Everyone else would have the right to pay for you—except Nebraskans, who are blessed with a senator who can extract goodies from a feeble majority leader while wielding no more than an imaginary moral misgiving.

You also would have the right to live under the guidance of a newly consequential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which—as Kevin Patrick, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, explained to The Washington Post—"has been one of the crown jewels of evidence-based neutrality. It's like the Switzerland of thought on evidence-based medicine. I worry about it being politicized."

The task force's political recommendations would define what basic health insurance coverage meant for millions. On mammograms. On colonoscopies. On wellness. On vaccines. On preventive care. On everything.

The state-based insurance exchanges in which consumers (those who would be without insurance once their employers dropped them) would have the right to pick from a handful of government-authorized insurance plans would be guided by this task force.

You call it rationing? They call it freedom.

You call it coercion with no cost benefit to speak of? Hey, in Washington, that's called a right.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com.