On Saturday at the witching hour, the House of Representatives moved this country closer to a command society, took steps to mangle medical care, steered us recklessly toward economic mayhem, and then congratulated itself.
“Oh, what a night,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, referring to the passage of a health bill built largely on lies, exaggerations and left-wing zaniness. President Barack Obama, she said, “provided the vision and the momentum to get the job done for the American people.”
For starters, what the American people, their institutions and businesses would face if the Senate should go along with this plotted catastrophe is an extraordinary set of constraints and demands.
Healthy young people would be forced to buy insurance or else face a nasty fine. Their premiums would be dictated not by actuarial calculation of their own risks of illness, but by what our representatives believe is necessary to help subsidize the premiums of older Americans — in effect a tax, say some students of the subject.
Under the House rules, health insurance companies would no longer be run as businesses. Rather, they would be welfare agencies required to grant new coverage even to those whose future medical expenses are a matter of certainty.
The already-low profits of these companies (86th among all industries) would be lowered more if they failed to meet some artificially constructed level of expenditures on care.
Under a government-run insurance program that would likely become the only show in town, doctors and hospitals would be reimbursed at significantly lower levels than the market sets.
Forgetting that profit incentives have prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths — as the U.S. pharmaceutical industry has led the world by far in producing life-saving drugs — the House would subject the firms to a form of price controls (Medicare negotiations) and enforce rebates for some customers.
All firms except for the very smallest would be required to provide subsidized employee insurance while at the same time the government is helping to subsidize individual insurance of the least well-off.
There are other ways to do this — you could phase out employer tax breaks as you give tax credits to individuals — but no, that would be cost-neutral, and what our political heroes espied was an opportunity in this economy of 10.2 percent unemployment to worsen things with a 10-year cost of $1.2 trillion.
The lie is that much of this would be paid for by relatively rich people taking bigger hits on their taxes, but the truth is that just about everyone will pay for it one way or the other — through the money no longer in the private sector to create jobs, through the hidden taxes, through health care disruption and the radical rationing that eventually becomes inevitable, through the increased probability of inflation and more.
All kinds of prudent, inexpensive, one-piece-at-a-time remedies are available to rectify what is wrong with our health care system — tort reform, special programs for people with preconditions, instituting national competition among health insurance companies — but none of this is supposedly good enough because of all the misleading hokum about a lack of safety nets, the number of those without access to insurance and a refusal to concede the present system really does work for most people and that we lead the world in many health-treatment categories.
Speak up with some common sense, as many ordinary people have, and you are vilified as a right-wing nutcase by the left. But shut up and bow your head, my friends, and we could become that much less a materially blessed land of the free.
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at Speaktojay@aol.com.
Decades ago, I was a reporter in Albany, N.Y., working for a newspaper at the foot of a hill that could be ascended only with huffing, puffing, knee endangerment and sweat unless you employed a trick.