My latest podcast, “IPAB: ObamaCare’s Next Constitutional Hurdle.”
My latest podcast, “IPAB: ObamaCare’s Next Constitutional Hurdle.”
Last week, I appeared on NPR’s Tell Me More program. My discussion with host Michel Martin gives a good synopsis of why ObamaCare is both harmful to consumers and unconstitutional. Listen to the segment here.
For a contrary perspective, listen to former Obama administration acting solicitor general Neal Katyal, who appeared on the program the next day. If you do listen to both programs, let me know what you think about Katyal’s comments, specifically this part:
MARTIN: First, I want to play a short clip from Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute who spoke to us yesterday as we said. This is a little of what he told us. Here it is.
MICHAEL CANNON: If the Supreme Court were to uphold this unprecedented and really breathtaking assertion of government power, there would be nothing to stop the Congress from forcing Americans to purchase any private product that Congress chose to favor. That could be a gym membership. That could be stock in Exxon Mobil. That could be broccoli if Congress decided that any of these products move in interstate commerce and that forcing you to buy it was essential to the regulatory scheme they wanted to enact.
MARTIN: What is your response to that?
KATYAL: Well, I mean, that’s a lot of rhetoric and not really a legal argument because it’s not responsive to what the government is asking for here. What the government is saying is, look, everyone consumes healthcare in this country, you and I. And, you know, even if I might say to myself, I don’t need health insurance. I won’t get sick. The fact is, as human beings with mortality, we are going to get sick and it’s unpredictable when.
You could get struck by a heart attack or cancer or hit by a bus and wind up in the emergency room and then it’s average Americans who have to pick up the tab for that. And so the government is not saying here we have the power to force people to buy goods. They’re saying, look, you’re going to already buy the goods. You’re going to use it. And the only question is, are you going to have the financing now to pay for it.
And so the government is regulating financing. It’s kind of like a government law that says you’ve got to pay cash or credit. It’s not the government coming in and saying, oh, consume this product you wouldn’t otherwise consume. And as for the kind of, you know, ludicrous suggestion that this would somehow lead to the government forcing people to eat broccoli or the like, I mean, I would think that someone from the Cato Institute would know that the Bill of Rights and the privacy protections in the constitution would protect against such drastic hypotheticals.
Now, I’ve been at this for a while. I’ve seen people evade uncomfortable questions and mischaracterize things I’ve said. But for some reason, this instance really surprised me. Maybe Katyal was nervous.
Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign has responded to my post, “Gingrich Adviser Urges States to Implement ObamaCare,” in which I responded to David Merritt’s Daily Caller op-ed calling on states to create ObamaCare’s health insurance Exchanges. According to Gingrich campaign spokesman Joe DeSantis:
Mr. Merritt is still an advisor to Speaker Gingrich, but he was not writing this article as a representative of the campaign. Newt receives advice from a large number of people. That does not mean he always agrees with the advice he is given. In this case of states implementing ObamaCare as a precaution, he explicitly disagrees with Mr. Merritt. He believes states need to resist the implementation of the law because it is a threat to our freedom.
Now that we’ve got the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich on board, perhaps Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul could emphasize to state officials the importance of not implementing ObamaCare.
State after state is refusing to implement ObamaCare’s health insurance Exchanges. Republican David Merritt hopes they will “grudgingly decide” to change their minds.
Merritt is a health care adviser to Newt Gingrich. He is also a senior adviser at Leavitt Partners. Leavitt Partners is a consulting firm that makes money by helping states implement ObamaCare. In the Daily Caller, Merritt tries to persuade state officials to help implement a law they oppose.
Merritt begins his pro-Exchange argument like so: “Imagine that you’re being required to buy a car.” Would you rather choose that car yourself, he then asks, or would you rather the dealer choose the car? Hmm, good question. I choose Option C: wring the neck of whoever is requiring me to buy a car. Not Merritt, though. He counsels states to choose their own “car.”
There are so many problems with this analogy that it’s hard to list them all. First, as Merritt essentially admits, states would be able to choose from such a narrow range of “cars” that it scarcely makes a difference whether they pick their own or let the feds do it. Second, states would only have to pay for their “car” if they pick it out themselves; otherwise, the feds pay for it. So Merritt is literally urging states to volunteer to pay for a “car” when the feds would otherwise hand them one for free. Finally, he says states should select their own “car” even though “no one knows what a federal [car] would look like.” How can Merritt counsel states to choose Option A if he admits he doesn’t even know what Option B is? Wouldn’t the prudent course be to wait and see? Especially since the Obama administration admits it doesn’t have the money to create Exchanges itself?
Merritt’s hypotheticals don’t make his point, either:
Take, for example, the treatment of high-deductible health plans with health savings accounts. A state exchange could and should include them as an option…But considering that many on the left oppose consumer-directed plans, a federal exchange may very well exclude them.
Perhaps a federal exchange will lard mandate upon mandate on participating plans, driving costs through the roof. Perhaps it will be so restrictive in its plan eligibility that only a few options will be available. Perhaps HHS will offer a public option.
This is nonsense. If the federal government wants to exclude HSAs, etc., it will do so in both federal and state-run Exchanges. States that establish their own Exchanges won’t be able to do a darned thing about it.
But here’s where Merritt’s argument really fails:
Unless and until the law is repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court, all health care stakeholders — including state policymakers — need to prepare for it as though it will be the law of the land forever. Wishing the law away is not a strategy. Hoping that it is overturned is not a plan.
Wishing? Hoping? Perhaps Merritt hasn’t noticed, but countless Americans are pursuing multiple well-considered strategies (and working their fingers to the bone) to ensure that ObamaCare is not “the law of the land forever.”
State-run Exchanges undermine all of those repeal strategies. In fact, they completely derail one of the most promising ones. Worse, Exchanges create new constituencies that would be dependent on ObamaCare, and would therefore fight repeal – constituencies not unlike Leavitt Partners. One of the most important reasons for states not to establish Exchanges is that the federal government does not have the money to establish Exchanges itself. Translation: fewer constituencies for ObamaCare.
For all these reasons, scholars from the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and countless other groups are advising states to refuse to create ObamaCare Exchanges and to send all related grants back to Washington. Perhaps Newt Gingrich’s health care advisers could lend a hand, instead of trying to cement ObamaCare in place.
Update: While it is important to understand the financial interests involved in such issues, I do not believe that financial interest is what’s motivating Merritt. He sincerely believes that creating their own Exchanges will allow states to make the best of a bad situation.
Update #2: Gingrich campaign spokesman Joe DeSantis writes, “Mr. Merritt is still an advisor to Speaker Gingrich, but he was not writing this article as a representative of the campaign. Newt receives advice from a large number of people. That does not mean he always agrees with the advice he is given. In this case of states implementing ObamaCare as a precaution, he explicitly disagrees with Mr. Merritt. He believes states need to resist the implementation of the law because it is a threat to our freedom.”
The federal government gave a $10 million “affordability” prize to a giant corporation for manufacturing a $50 lightbulb. The Washington Post:
The U.S. government last year announced a $10 million award…for any manufacturer that could create a “green” but affordable light bulb.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the prize would spur industry to offer the costly bulbs…at prices “affordable for American families.”…
Now the winning bulb is on the market.
The price is $50.
Retailers said the bulb, made by Philips, is likely to be too pricey to have broad appeal. Similar LED bulbs are less than half the cost.
California regulators are coming down on Kaiser Permanente. According to HealthLeaders Media, the regulators reviewed a batch of coverage denials and “found that in excess of 75% of the cases the services indeed were medically necessary, and 10% were not.” Indeed?
Clinical artificiality The ill fit between “necessity” and ordinary medical care is immediately obvious in the question facetiously bandied about when health plans first considered what to do about a recently approved drug for male impotence: How often per month (per week? per day?) is drug-assisted sexual intercourse “medically necessary”?
As typified by that case, most medical decisions do not post clear choices of life versus death, nor juxtapose complete cures against pure quackery. Rather, the daily stuff of medicine is a continuum requiring a constant weighing of uncertainties and values. One antibiotic regimen may be medically comparable to and much less expensive than another, but with slightly higher risk of damage to hearing or to organs like kidneys or liver. For a patient needing hip replacement, one prosthetic joint may be longer-lasting but far costlier than an alternative. Of two equally effective drugs for hypertension, the costlier one may be more palatable because it has fewer side effects and a convenient once-a-day dosage.
Across such choices, it is artificially precise to say that one option is “necessary” — with the usual connotation of “essential” or “indispensable” – while the other is “unnecessary” — with the usual connotation of “superfluous” or “pointless.” Various options have merits, and often no single approach is the clear, “correct” choice. A given option might be better described as “a good idea in this case,” “reasonable, given the cost of the alternative,” “probably better than the alternative, given a specific goal,” “about as good as anything else,” or “not quite ideal, but still acceptable.”
In many cases, the real question is whether a particular medical risk or monetary cost is worth incurring in order to achieve a desired level of symptomatic relief or functional improvement, or to reduce the risk of an adverse outcome or a missed diagnosis. A huge array of treatments fits that description: more or less worthwhile, but the patient will not die without it and other alternatives (that might have some drawbacks) exist. [Emphasis mine.]
More broadly, concepts like necessity, appropriateness, and effectiveness can only be defined relative to a goal. For example, antibiotics are not clinically effective for all illnesses; they are effective against bacteria but, barring placebo effect, they are ineffective against viruses. Hence, it makes no sense for a physician to prescribe antibiotics to eradicate a viral infection. However, if the goal is to placate a relentlessly demanding patient who insists on antibiotics for his viral infection, the prescription may indeed serve that latter aim – which is probably why so many physicians write so many antibiotic prescriptions for viral illnesses.
Choices in this realm require a level of clinical complexity that is not reflected in simplistic notions like necessity, and that should not be hidden under blanket categories connoting a façade of precision. It would be far better to acknowledge that, across a broad spectrum of such choices and trade-offs, it is legitimate for people to come to different conclusions about what sort of price is worth paying, medically and financially, to achieve specific goals. To presume that a medical intervention is objectively either necessary or unnecessary belies the legitimacy of such variation in human goals and values.
So the question becomes: who will do a better job of deciding whether and when hip replacements or antibiotics or Viagra are “medically necessary?” Regulators? Or patients choosing health plans (in part) based on how those plans define medical necessity?
It’s an interesting question. Romney is under age 65, which means that he would have to obtain private health insurance. He jokes that he is unemployed, which means he may have to purchase it on his own. Or he may get it as a retiree benefit from Bain Capital.
The question is interesting because Romney is so wealthy that to spend his money on health insurance might seem like a waste. (Of course, Romney may be very risk averse, and a man to whom $10,000 is a small wager probably isn’t going to notice a $20,000 health insurance premium. But Romney could pay for whatever medical care he and his wife – and his children, and his grandchildren – could possibly need.) On the other hand, if Romney doesn’t have private health insurance, it would look bad that he forced other people to buy it.
Moreover, Romney turns 65 on March 12, meaning he becomes eligible for Medicare on March 1. He likely received his Medicare card in the mail two months ago. If Romney does not enroll in Medicare, it would again look bad that he who forced others to purchase health insurance is opting not to obtain health insurance himself. But if he does enroll in Medicare, it’s worth asking whether the 99 percent should subsidize people like him.
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