Time to bring sanity to health care debate

By Josh Tardy, Special to the BDN
Posted Aug. 28, 2009, at 5:47 p.m.

As we watch the unfolding health care debate, I’m reminded of the ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Congress returns to Washington soon, and the stage is set for the biggest political war in decades. On one side stand the Democrats, who are fighting to lay the groundwork for the liberals’ Holy Grail — a single-payer health care system. Their centerpiece is the public option, subsidized by taxpayers, which would ultimately become the only option. Private health insurance companies would go all but extinct.

On the other side stand millions of Americans who reject this Democratic assault on health care freedom. Across the country, outraged citizens, deeply distrustful of the government, are speaking out at town hall meetings. The Obama administration figured it had neutralized serious opposition through negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry and the American Medical Association. They never imagined that ordinary citizens would rise up and demand that Washington stop the financial insanity.

The projected cost of ObamaCare, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is about $1.6 trillion. That is unaffordable. We already have a national debt of $11.7 trillion, and President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget says the debt will grow by $9 trillion over the next decade. That will push the national debt over $20 trillion.

We are speeding toward an economic train wreck, with extremely dire implications for our way of life, our national security and our kids’ future. Even Warren Buffett, an Obama supporter, warned recently that the United States risks becoming a banana republic. With Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid headed for insolvency, it would border on madness to launch another gigantic federal entitlement program.

ObamaCare also will kill jobs — more than 4 million of them, according to Obama’s own economic adviser. And just this month came news that the Canadian single-payer system is on the verge of implosion. It’s going broke.

For northern Maine, the ObamaCare damage could be profound. The plan’s $500 billion cut in Medicare spending will affect all Maine seniors, especially the 10,709 of them in the 2nd Congressional District who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage. ObamaCare as detailed in HR 3200 threatens the survival of that Medicare option.

Hospital cuts in the 2nd District would start at $438 million, according to the American Hospital Association. And the American Health Care Association says skilled nursing facilities in our district could lose as much as $155 million.

Unfortunately, economic reality doesn’t matter to the single-payer zealots, who have been waiting for this moment of total government control to make their big move. We will all pay the price if they succeed.

In all the din and turmoil of the debate, a reasonable alternative solution has been overlooked. Republicans in Congress have crafted a plan that lowers health care costs and enhances health insurance without creating new government programs or breaking the bank.

To lower insurance costs, the plan brings fairness to the tax code by extending tax savings to folks who buy health coverage on their own, such as the self-employed. They would get a tax deduction equal to the cost of an individual or family policy. Substantial insurance tax credits would go to citizens with low or modest incomes. Provisions like these would make coverage much more affordable.

The plan also encourages states to create Universal Access Programs to guarantee that all citizens have access to affordable coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions. And the number of uninsured Americans would drop by 7 million simply by allowing young people to remain on their parents’ policies to the age of 25.

The cost of insurance is one of the biggest obstacles for small businesses when it comes to retaining employees and creating new jobs. The Republican proposal helps small businesses band together across state lines to provide their employees with high-quality, low-cost coverage — the same coverage enjoyed by big companies and unions.

Small-business owners want to offer health insurance because they know it helps with recruitment, retention, employee performance and overall business success. Among the estimated 47 million people without insurance, some 10 million are employees who choose not to sign up for their employers’ health plans. The GOP proposal would encourage employers to move to opt-out, rather than opt-in, rules for employees to bring more of them under company policies. Another boost to small business would come from tax credits to reduce the administrative costs of running an insurance plan.

The Republican proposal also aims to crack down on waste and fraud. It provides Medicare and Medicaid with additional authority and resources to root out white-collar crime that costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. Medicare fraud alone is ripping us off for $80 billion a year.

There is nothing radical about this plan. It is reasonable, realistic and economically responsible. Democrats and Republicans could support it. When ObamaCare flames out in Congress — as we should hope it does — this is a plan the whole country could get behind. It’s time to bring some sanity back into this debate.

Josh Tardy, R-Newport, is leader of the Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/28/opinion/time-to-bring-sanity-to-health-care-debate/ printed on October 20, 2014