Tag: clinton health plan

Meet the New Plan, Same as the Old Plan

Or it may even be worse.

This morning, President Obama released his latest health care blueprint, which he hopes will breathe life into his moribund effort to overhaul one-sixth of the U.S. economy.  The new blueprint is almost exactly the same as the House and Senate health care bills that the public have opposed since July.  It mostly just splits the difference between the two.

One new element, however, is the president’s proposal to impose a new type of government price control on health insurance premiums.  I explain here how those price controls are a veiled form of government rationing that helped sink the Clinton health plan.

If anything, those price controls make the president’s new plan even more bureaucratic and government-heavy.  The Senate bill would take an ill-advised stab at cost-control by imposing a tax on the highest-cost health plans.  That president proposes to pare back that excise tax and instead have a panel of federal bureaucrats cap the growth in health insurance premiums for all health plans.  Those new government powers could make it even harder for people to obtain the coverage and care that they need.

Obama’s ‘Best’ Idea? Rationing Care via Clinton-esque Price Controls

Hoping to revive his increasingly unpopular health care overhaul, President Obama has invited Republicans to a bipartisan summit this Thursday and plans to introduce a new reform blueprint in advance of the summit.  On Sunday, the White House announced that a key feature of that blueprint will be premium caps, a form of government price control that helped kill the Clinton health plan when even New Democrats rejected it.

The New York Times reports on President Obama’s blueprint:

The president’s bill would grant the federal health and human services secretary new authority to review, and to block, premium increases by private insurers, potentially superseding state insurance regulators.

It bears repeating what Obama’s top economic advisor Larry Summers thinks about price controls:

Price and exchange controls inevitably create harmful economic distortions. Both the distortions and the economic damage get worse with time.

For example, as I have written elsewhere, artificially limiting premium growth allows the government to curtail spending while leaving the dirty work of withholding medical care to private insurers: “Premium caps, which Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is currently threatening to impose, force private insurers to manage care more tightly — i.e., to deny coverage for more services.”  No doubt the Obama administration would lay the blame for coverage denials on private insurers and claim that such denials demonstrate the need for a so-called “public option.”

As the Progressive Policy Institute’s David Kendall explained in a 1994 paper, the Clinton health plan contained similar price controls.  Kendall explains why they would be a disaster:

In spite of the late hour in the health care debate, Congress has not yet decided how to restrain runaway health care costs. The essential choices are a top- down strategy of government limits on health care spending enforced by price controls or a bottom-up strategy of consumer choice and market competition. History clarifies that choice: Previous government efforts to regulate prices in peacetime have invariably failed. Moreover, government attempts to control prices in the health care sector would undermine concurrent efforts to restructure the marketplace…

The idea of controlling costs by government fiat is seductively simple. But it rests on a conceit as persistent as it is damaging: that government bureaucracies can allocate resources more wisely and efficiently than millions of consumers and providers pursuing their interests in the marketplace. The alternative – one rooted in America’s progressive tradition of individual responsibility and free enterprise – is to improve the market’s ground rules in order to decentralize decision-making, spur innovation, reward efficiency, and respect personal choice.

As centrally planned economies crumble around the world, many in the United States seem bent on erecting a command and control economy in health care. This policy briefing examines the reasons why government price regulation would fail to constrain health care costs and create many adverse side effects…

Ultimately, government price regulation will always fail because it does not change the underlying economic forces driving up prices. If we are serious about slowing the growth of health care costs, we have to change the ways we consume and provide medical care. Price controls evade the hard but essential work of structural reform in health care markets: They are a quintessentially political response to an economic problem. The alternative is to allow well-functioning markets to set prices and allocate resources, while ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health care coverage. The market-oriented approach leaves decisions to cost-conscious consumers and health care providers rather than bureaucrats.

Any of that sound familiar?  It’s worth reading the whole thing.

This is not hope.  This is not change.  (Much less a game-changer.)  It is, to pinch a phrase, a return to “the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis.”

It’s the Obama Economy Now

Undoubtedly President Obama inherited an economic mess.  Also undoubtedly, he’s made it worse.  Barring substantial revisions to recent job loss estimates, we have now crossed the line where as many jobs have been lost during this recession under President Obama as under President Bush.  From the start of the recession, in December 2007, until President Obama took the oath of office at the end of January 2009, there have been 3.36 million nonfarm payroll jobs lost.  From February 2009 until now there have been about 3.36 million nonfarm payroll jobs lost (estimates from ADP employment report).

Even during the best of times, the economy experiences substantial job loss.  However, we consider those times good because the labor market is also creating lots of jobs, so that job losses are offset by job gains.  The early parts of a recession are generally characterized by large increases in job losses, with minor declines in job creation.  Eventually the job losses moderate and job creation picks up, bringing us out of the recession.  We are arguably past the worst of the job losses.  What has escaped us is job creation.

And it is on the job creation front that Obama takes ownership of the economy.  While there are certainly problems in the credit markets, the major reason behind the lack of job creation is the massive uncertainty being generated by Washington.  For any employer today, it is almost impossible to estimate what the future health care costs of new hires will be.  It’s impossible to gauge what your environment costs are going to be.  Same with the costs of the 90 new workplace rules that the Department of Labor promised would be forthcoming over the next year.

Sadly this administration learned the wrong lesson from the defeat of the Clinton health care plan.  The history lesson they should have learned is that Clinton inherited a recession as well (as did Bush for that matter), but that job creation was weak until the Clinton health care plan stalled. 

Until employers and investors feel it is safe once again to put their businesses and investments at risk, and Washington ends its war on the productive elements of our society, we will not have significant private sector job growth.

Reid Health Bill Perpetuates the $1.5 Trillion Fraud

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has finally unveiled his massive 2,074-page health care bill.  The Congressional Budget Office reports that the insurance-expansion provisions would cost the feds $848 billion over 10 years.  To raise those funds, the bill would tax wages, medical devices, prescription drugs, sick people, health insurance premiums (twice), HSAs, FSAs, HRAs, and – why not? – cosmetic surgery.  The remainder would supposedly come from $491 billion of Medicare cuts, even though Medicare’s chief actuary says such cuts are “unrealistic” and “doubtful.”  But don’t worry.  Somehow, this thing’s gonna reduce the deficit.

Of course, that $848 billion only accounts for part of the federal government’s share of the tab.  There is other new federal spending.  My read is that the CBO estimates $998 billion of total new federal spending – though I’ll be waiting for former CBO director Donald Marron to provide a more authoritative tally.

And then there are costs that Reid and his comrades have pushed off the federal budget.  For example, the $25 billion unfunded mandate that Reid would impose on states.  Total so far: just over $1 trillion.

But the biggest hidden cost is that of the private-sector mandates.  In both the Clinton health plan and the Massachusetts health plan, the private-sector mandates –- the legal requirements that individuals and employers purchase health insurance –- accounted for 60 percent of total costs.  That suggests that if the Reid bill’s cost to federal and state governments is $1 trillion, then the total cost is probably $2.5 trillion, and Harry Reid – like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – is hiding $1.5 trillion of the cost of his bill.

Without a cost estimate of the private-sector mandates, Reid has not yet satisfied the request made by eight Democratic senators for a “complete CBO score” of the bill 72 hours prior to floor consideration.

Fortunately, by law, the CBO must eventually score the private-sector mandates.  When that happens, the CBO will reveal costs that the bills’ authors are trying to hide. When that happens, the CBO will present the new federal spending on page 1, new state spending maybe on page 10, and the cost of the private-sector mandates on page 20 or something.  Democrats will tout the figure on page 1.  But the bill’s total cost will the sum of those three figures -– a sum that will reveal the costs that the bill’s authors have been hiding.

The House passed its bill without a complete CBO score.  The Senate should not follow suit.

I’ve written previously about this massive fraud here, here, here, and here.

(Cross-posted at Politico’s Health Care Arena.)