Barack Obama is only halfway through his term, but it's not too early to ask: What is the biggest whopper he has told as president? So far, the hands-down winner is, "No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your healthcare plan, you'll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."
Obama made that particular pledge in a speech to the American Medical Association in June 2009, but he said the same thing, with slight variations, dozens of times during the healthcare debate. And now, exactly eight months after he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, we're seeing just how empty the president's promise was.
The New York Times reports there is a "growing frenzy of mergers" in the healthcare field in which hospitals and other care providers, pressured by the new law's provisions, are joining forces to save money. "Consumer advocates fear that the healthcare law could worsen some of the very problems it was meant to solve," the paper reports, "by reducing competition, driving up costs and creating incentives for doctors and hospitals to stint on care, in order to retain their cost-saving bonuses."
The Obama administration's answer to the problem will undoubtedly be more regulation. But the wave of mergers is just one of many signs of trouble with the new law.
For example, we know that the government's Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has found that the new law will increase healthcare costs, rather than reduce them, in the coming decade. We know that cuts in Medicare, with the money saved going to pay for expanding coverage to the poor, will jeopardize seniors' access to care. We know the law will make it impossibly expensive for companies that currently offer bare-bones health coverage to low-income employees to keep doing so. We know several corporations are taking giant write-downs because the bill will increase the cost of providing prescription-drug coverage to retired employees. And perhaps most important, we know the law offers an enormous incentive for employers who currently provide coverage to workers to stop doing so, sending those workers to buy coverage in government-subsidized healthcare exchanges.
In sum, what the law means for millions of Americans is: No matter what the president said, if you like the coverage you have now, you can't keep it.