WASHINGTON -- In the 48 hours of June 15-16, President Obama lost the health care debate. First, a letter from the Congressional Budget Office to Sen. Edward Kennedy reported that his health committee's reform bill would add $1 trillion in debt over the next decade. Then the CBO reported that the other Senate bill, being written by the Finance Committee, would add $1.6 trillion. The central contradiction of Obamacare was fatally exposed: From his first address to Congress, Obama insisted on the dire need for restructuring the health care system because out-of-control costs were bankrupting the Treasury and wrecking the U.S. economy -- yet the Democrats' plans would make the problem worse.
Accordingly, Democrats have trotted out various tax proposals to close the gap. Obama's idea of limits on charitable and mortgage-interest deductions went nowhere. As did the House's income tax surcharge on millionaires. And Obama dare not tax employer-provided health insurance because of his campaign pledge of no middle-class tax hikes.
Desperation time. What do you do? Sprinkle fairy dust on every health care plan, and present your deus ex machina: prevention.
Free mammograms and diabetes tests and checkups for all, promise Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, writing in USA Today. Prevention, they assure us, will not just make us healthier, it also "will save money."
Obama followed suit in his Tuesday New Hampshire town hall, touting prevention as amazingly dual-purpose: "It saves lives. It also saves money."
Reform proponents repeat this like a mantra. Because it seems so intuitive, it has become conventional wisdom. But like most conventional wisdom, it is wrong. Overall, preventive care increases medical costs.
This inconvenient truth comes, once again, from the CBO. In an Aug. 7 letter to Rep. Nathan Deal, CBO Director Doug Elmendorf writes: "Researchers who have examined the effects of preventive care generally find that the added costs of widespread use of preventive services tend to exceed the savings from averted illness."
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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