Hillary's health-care nightmare

Donald Lambro

9/24/2007 12:01:00 AM - Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- No sooner had Hillary Clinton unveiled her latest plan for universal health-care coverage last week than the Club for Growth was denouncing it as another attempt at socialized medicine.

The title over the economic-growth advocacy group's statement said it all: "It's Baaaaack: HillaryCare Redux."

The New York senator and clear front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is known for many things. But in the recent annals of federal-reform plans, she is best known as the architect of a fiendishly complicated, government-run health-care insurance system that was so unpopular the Democratic-run Congress refused to bring it up for a vote.

In her second try at wholesale reform, Clinton says she's learned from her past mistakes. But for all her centrist-sounding makeovers and political camouflage, she remains a big-government liberal to the core. Her latest plan would put the all-powerful federal bureaucracy in charge of our private health-care system, lock, stock and barrel.

The elements of an expanding government regulatory nightmare are all here: massive government subsidies, higher income taxes and employer mandates to provide employee health-care coverage no matter what the costs, a sweeping mandate that requires all Americans to buy insurance and a regulatory takeover of the health-care system from the states by the feds.

"With each passing day, the collectivist nightmare that is a Hillary Clinton presidency is crystallizing with frightening clarity," said Club for Growth president Pat Toomey.

The plan she has proposed provides scant details, preferring to paint her campaign proposal with a broad brush. The details, she said, would be worked out by Democratic legislators that rule over health-care policy, people like Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and New York Rep. Charlie Rangel.

But even at this early stage, her plan is riddled with ominous signs that HillaryCare II could be just as bad as the ill-fated plan of 1994 that many in her party could not stomach.

How much would it cost taxpayers? Clinton's price tag is $110 billion a year, but analysts say her plan will cost a lot more than that. A similar plan offered by Sen. John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign would have cost about $1.5 trillion over 10 years at a minimum.

Then there are the employer mandates in her plan with the heavy hand of the government forcing businesses to provide health-insurance plans for their workers. But forcing all small businesses to provide health-care insurance benefits for their employees would be a disaster for most of them.

Most small businesses operate precariously on the profit margin and government-mandated costs would bankrupt them.

One of the least noticed but biggest policymaking changes in her plan would transfer health-care regulatory authority from states to the federal government. "I think it ultimately leads to more government-run health care. There is no way around that," said Charles Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals.

Then there is the specter of price controls in her plan, which would invariably lead to health-care shortages, longer waiting periods and poorer service. "In her explanation of the federal rules, Mrs. Clinton says that national rules would help insure universal coverage, preventing persons from being charged 'excessive' premiums, while preventing 'excessive' profits on the part of insurance companies," said Robert Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

"There are no explicit price controls, but obviously federal officials will be charged with making sure these objectives are met," Moffit said in an analysis of the Clinton plan.

Clinton insists she would let people keep the private plans they have now, but part of her plan would allow Americans to buy into federal health-care plans -- putting the feds into direct competition with private-sector health insurance, which is the backbone of the health-care industry.

"If there is a public alternative to the private market, the public market is going to have a hard time competing," Kahn told me.

This isn't the direction that health-care reform should be taking. "Instead of socialized medicine," Club for Growth's Toomey said, "we should be deregulating the health-insurance industry and opening it up to innovative reform that increases competition and lowers prices, making health care more affordable for everyone."

For example: Arizona Rep. John Shadegg's Healthcare Choice Act, which would allow insurance companies to comply with any state's regulatory rules and let them to sell plans in all 50 states, is a needed reform.

Another solution to help bring down premium prices is to eliminate the costly web of government health-care mandates that have driven up prices beyond the pocketbook of many Americans. Let insurance companies offer a broader choice of plans under a larger range of prices.

In the meantime, Hillary Clinton's second stab at health-care reform has led to many of the same complaints heard in 1994. Maybe she didn't learn from her mistakes after all.