Health-care proposals from the White House follow a set pattern. The President identifies a real problem; he talks about the need for bipartisan action; he finally proposes a partisan solution that has been tried somewhere and failed miserably. Most of 2009, for example, was spent tackling the problem of “bending the curve” of health costs with the President ultimately championing a British-style government committee to guide Medicare treatment decisions. The British government is so taken with this idea that they are now distancing themselves from their own committee.
With Obamacare tanking in the polls, the President met with his advisors – and promptly stuck to his usual pattern. On Monday he suggested that rising insurance premiums are a problem and that bipartisan ideas are welcome. And then he touted the latest “new” idea: tough federal powers to review and reject insurance premium increases.
Superficially, it sounds like a potentially popular idea. There are three nagging problems. First, holding show-trials for the worst premium increases won’t limit health inflation for most Americans. Second, the plan is not as tough as advertised. And finally, the same approach has already failed at the state level.
Time and again, liberals have pinned the blame for health-care cost inflation on America’s for-profit care system. The explanation doesn’t hold up. If the problem is profit, then why are Medicare and Medicaid costs rising faster than private sector costs in 2009, according to the government’s own statistics? If the problem is profit, then why did Canadian public-sector health inflation rise almost as quickly as American private sector health inflation in 2009, even though Canada literally bans private insurance?
Yes, some Americans will face steep premium hikes this year. Their plight shouldn’t be ignored. But the President’s job is not to be the micromanager-in-chief. The President’s stated health reform goal in 2009 was to fight health inflation across the American economy. And America’s problem with health inflation is mostly seen in constant, routine increases of a few points over core inflation. While it might feel good to stomp on the worst increases, be sure that most rate hikes will slip through the new process unchallenged.