Commentary

Warning Label for Pelosicare

It’s too bad the health care overhaul that House Democrats narrowly approved last week isn’t a medical product. If it were, it would have to come with a warning label, Which could read something like this:

WARNINGS:

This product will increase your health insurance premiums. Millions who are satisfied with their current, low-cost health plans would have to switch to more expensive plans, solely because Congress decided they weren’t buying enough coverage.

The Pelosi bill is neither safe nor effective.”

The legislation would increase premiums even further over time, as drug companies, chiropractors, acupuncturists, fertility specialists and other special interests lobby Congress to force you to purchase coverage for their services too.

This product will reduce the quality of your health care. America’s health care sector is often inconvenient, poorly coordinated, and makes less use of information technology than your local supermarket. Research shows that medical errors kill as many as 100,000 Americans per year.

Markets would solve those problems, but government thwarts doctors and entrepreneurs who try to improve quality. Medicare — by far the largest purchaser of medical services in the world — actually penalizes doctors and hospitals that reduce medical errors.

The House bill would cement those deficiencies in place with yet another massive government program, and create new quality problems, like insurers skimping on care and customer service for the sickest patients.

This product probably won’t make you healthier. The House bill would expand coverage, but at a steep cost and with zero evidence that doing so is a cost-effective way of improving health.

Little research supports the notion that broadly expanding insurance coverage makes people healthier. Medicare established near-universal coverage for the elderly, yet research shows that program didn’t save a single life in its first 10 years of operation. Whether it has had any subsequent impact on mortality rates — positive or negative — remains an open question.

This product will make you poorer. The House bill contains at least $2 trillion in explicit and implicit taxes. Tax rates for wealthy Americans would rise to 45 percent, with an ever-expanding definition of “wealthy.” For the middle class, effective tax rates would average 60 percent to 70 percent and exceed 100 percent in some cases.

This product will make your children poorer. Since the bill would actually increase the federal budget deficit, the tax burden would grow over time.

The bill purports to cut Medicare spending, but those cuts are not likely to happen. Want proof? At the same time House Democrats promise future spending cuts, they are gutting $210 billion of spending cuts promised by past Congresses.

And like most government health care programs, this bill’s actual costs will exceed current projections. In 1967, Congress predicted that Medicare would cost $12 billion in 1990. Medicare’s actual cost that year was $110 billion. Oops.

When this bill causes the deficit to explode, Congress will come after your children’s paychecks. Congress has increased Medicare taxes on average once every four years — and Medicare’s still $90 trillion in the hole. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, suggests that maybe Congress should impose a European-style value-added tax.

This product will make you irrational. Spending other people’s money has a way of making people nutty. Pelosi thinks that under her legislation, “There is a cap on what you pay in but there is no cap on the benefits that you receive.” Limited costs, but unlimited benefits? Really?

After a few years of Pelosicare, you yourself may vote both to eliminate wasteful health care spending and to protect all existing hospitals and doctors’ jobs. And you’ll wonder why Congress can’t do both!

But hey, why not be irrational? Socialized medicine socializes the cost of that, too.

This product will make you resent immigrants. The House bill would offer hidden subsidies to undocumented immigrants in a new national health insurance “exchange.” Turning America’s health care sector into a welfare magnet for immigrants will fuel anti-immigrant sentiment. Pretty soon, we’re France — in more ways than one.

This product will make you feel like you’re being watched. When taken in combination with its Senate counterpart, the bill would create a national identification system to monitor compliance with its mandates and determine eligibility for its subsidies. With the ability to collect data on every American, the government will always find new uses for any national ID system.

The Pelosi bill is neither safe nor effective. If it were medicine, the Food and Drug Administration would have to ban it.

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and co-author of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.