Commentary

HillaryCare II: Just as bad as HillaryCare I

Once again, Hillary Clinton has unveiled a massive new plan to reform America’s health care system. Once again, her plan calls for higher taxes — it will cost more than $110 billion per year — lower wages, fewer jobs, less choice and worse health care. Clinton appears to have learned little since the public rejected her last attempt to overhaul the U.S. health care system in 1994.

The centerpiece of HillaryCare II is an individual mandate, which is a fancy way of saying she would force everyone to purchase health insurance or face penalties. But where the government mandates that you buy insurance, the government defines what “insurance” is. That means the government will be designing your health coverage, with the help of legions of special interests with more political influence than you have.

If you are among the 85% of Americans who currently have health insurance — and are happy with it — but it doesn’t meet Clinton’s definition of proper insurance, too bad. You’ll have to shell out for the insurance she says you should have. A similar mandate in Massachusetts already has led to a requirement that all insurance cover prescription drugs and no plan have a deductible of more than $2,000. Clinton may say that you can keep the coverage you have now, but if you read the fine print, she doesn’t really mean it.

Moreover, an individual mandate will require a huge new government bureaucracy to track and monitor compliance. Think of how hard it will be to track down everyone to make sure they have insurance and punish them if they don’t.

And it’s not just individuals who would feel the heavy hand of government. Clinton would also impose a “play or pay” mandate on American businesses, requiring them to provide workers with health insurance or pay an additional tax. That would simply increase the cost of hiring workers, meaning less entrepreneurship and fewer new hires. Some employers would even have to lay off current employees or reduce wages.

Clinton would require insurance companies to accept all applicants regardless of their health and charge all applicants the same premiums. That sounds compassionate until you realize that it would dramatically increase premiums for younger workers, who generally earn less, in order to reduce premiums for older workers, who earn more. That turns Robin Hood on his head. It also would increase premiums for those who practice healthy lifestyles to subsidize the reckless.

This time around, Clinton dropped her bid to herd all Americans into regional health insurance “purchasing pools,” where Washington dictates the price and content of your health coverage. Some consumers actually could stay with their current insurers, but Washington would still retain all the same powers as under her old plan.

And if you don’t like those options? Consumers could choose to join a national purchasing pool where — you guessed it — Washington again calls all the shots. That national pool would be the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, meaning that Clinton merely adopted an idea that has already been trotted out by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and a host of other failed Democratic candidates.

And finally, Clinton would dramatically expand existing government health care programs. She would open Medicare to the near elderly, a program that is already $50 trillion in the red according to its non-partisan trustees. This seems about as wise as adding a few more passengers to the Titanic.

On the campaign trail, Clinton boasts that she bears the scars of her first effort to reform health care. If she is successful this time around, the scars will be ours.

Michael D. Tanner and Michael F. Cannon are co-authors of the forthcoming second edition of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It, published by the Cato Institute. Tanner testified recently before the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Health and Health Care Reform.