You might suppose that President Obama has his hands full running two wars, administering General Motors, "rescuing" the banking system, attempting to empower unions over management, hushing up whispers about hypocrisy regarding Guantanamo detainees, managing the mortgage crisis, imposing "clean energy" on the nation, handling nuclear North Korea and nearly nuclear Iran, "stimulating" the economy, reviving the "peace process" between Palestinians and Israelis, inaugurating a new relationship with Russia and with the Muslim world, and reversing the rise of the world's oceans, but no, he has one more agenda item -- overhauling U.S. health care.
The administration is hoping that a health bill will be voted on by early August, which may be overly optimistic but still means that this summer will be dominated by the health care debate. Its outcome will determine the overall success or failure of Obama's effort to torque America toward the European model of statism. It isn't just that the health care sector accounts for 17 percent of the U.S. economy. It is also the case that if enacted, a nationalized health service -- no matter how crushingly expensive or bureaucratic -- will vitiate arguments about the proper scope of government. All future pleas for reducing the size of the state will run into the accusation that the small government advocate is eager to take antibiotics from the mouth of a child or insulin from a diabetic.
Whereas the Clinton administration advertised the overhaul of American health care primarily as a means of covering the uninsured, President Obama is making the bolder claim that revamping health care is a way to save money. Really? Medicare is already the program that ate the government, scheduled to go into bankruptcy itself in 2019. As the trustees report put it, "while Medicare's annual costs were 3.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2008, or about three quarters of Social Security's, they are projected to surpass Social Security expenditures in 2028 and reach 11.4 percent of GDP in 2083." Or consider the Massachusetts health care reform introduced by Mitt Romney. Like every other government health care program, Romney's has vastly exceeded cost projections. Initially projected at $125 million per year, the program actually cost taxpayers $133 million in 2007, $647 million in 2008, $869 million in 2009, and could top $1.1 billion next year.