The president is ready for another close up. Last week, not only did he offer his much-awaited health care proposal, but he was joined by Congressional leaders from both political parties for a televised summit on health care reform.
In theory, this summit was meant to hash out a thorny public policy issue in full view of the American people, which is why a team of elite DC media makeup artists had been on standby all week.
If this is supposed to be some kind of experiment in transparency, it’s a little late.
In the words of Hillary Clinton, I think it’s time to press the reset button.
The president should scrap the current partisan plans, including his own--which is merely a wardrobe change for the House and Senate versions.
We know that current health insurance costs already stifle small business growth and job creation, and ever rising costs are a significant drag as economic recovery struggles to take hold. Yet the president’s bill only focuses on the ideal of health care for all. It would enact mandates to penalize businesses that cannot afford insurance coverage for their workers, as well as businesses that cannot afford good enough health insurance for their workers – as decided by government bureaucrats. As one employer with 500 employees told me recently, “this isn’t about taking more of my profits with higher taxes. The president’s plan - with its employer fees - would put me out of business.”
We should remember that small businesses will likely be our ticket out of this recession. Small businesses (with fewer than 20 employees) provide two-thirds of all new jobs. Enacting harmful government mandates despite a desperate need for new jobs makes about as much sense as Rachel Maddow attending CPAC.
The president’s bill would drive costs up enormously for businesses. It would force many businesses to lay off more workers, or close their doors for good. Those laid-off employees would then be minus jobs as well as health insurance.
The number of jobs “saved” would surely take a hit.
Individuals and families here in Maine and across the nation are right to fear that with current health care proposals we’ll pay more and get less.
But we do understand that our nation needs health care reform. The status quo is unacceptable… unless the alternative is something worse.
Hopefully, liberals will soon understand that reform does not have to include job-killing mandates, costly new bureaucracies that harm businesses and entitlements that threaten our kids with even more government debt. When they do, real and positive reforms should find support in both parties.
Back here in Maine, Senator Susan Collins believes that, despite the partisan gridlock that has grown up around reform, consensus can emerge. She lists seven proposals that should, could and have in the past attracted bipartisan support. If a core of bipartisan measures can be forged, Collins believes it would make a positive and lasting difference in our health care system.
Senator Olympia Snowe has dedicated hundreds of hours and several years to converging a bipartisan consensus that would give more Maine businesses and families access to national plans that would be available across state lines (alternatively called Small Business Health Plans, national plans or some clever acronym like SHOP - thought up by poor, overworked Hill staffers). Snowe recognizes that states need not be Balkanized when it comes to health insurance plans. If selling across state lines works for Medicare Part D drug plans, why not private insurance for the rest of us?
This was a bipartisan idea that has been under consideration for four years and should have been passed in 2006. Unfortunately, some insurers and self-serving provider groups killed it because they worried it would diminish their privileged status in some state houses. That self-serving position hurts patients, particularly here in Maine.
Last month, the Maine Bureau of Insurance released a report on the status of the health insurance market in Maine. Not good.
Maine is the microcosm of ObamaCare – with restrictive insurance regulations, few choices, expansive Medicaid, a stagnant economy and high taxes. In fact, a helpful chart at the end of the report shows how similar ObamaCare is to the Maine market (given the author is Maine’s liberal Insurance Superintendent, it is presented as a good thing). What was the outcome in Maine? For small businesses, a 349% increase in premiums since 2000.
Since 1999 - a whole decade - Maine has added only 56 more jobs (you read that right), 44,000 more residents within the state and over 120,000 more on Medicaid. That’s ObamaCare in action. I wonder if those 56 new workers will struggle with the added costs (read taxes) of that 120,000 more on Medicaid?
Maine’s Senators have publicly stated that Congress and the president should start over. For good reason: They live in Maine and have seen ObamaCare in action.
Back in 1987, Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Berlin where he implored Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” With all deference to a great speech – perhaps a slight rewrite of the speech would be in order to reflect the mood of the American people on the latest Washington shenanigans:
There is one sign the president can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of health care reform. President Obama, if you seek reform, if you seek health care for Americans, if you seek lower costs, better access and higher quality health care -- come here to this place!
But first, Mr. Obama, tear up your plan!
Tarren Bragdon is president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a research and advocacy organization committed to making Florida the most economically vibrant state in America. He is nationally recognized expert on health reform issues with a specialty in Medicaid reform.