Senate negotiators moved a step closer to a comprehensive health care package this week, but the American public seems increasingly wary of what "reform" might mean. The latest polls show that the majority of Americans are satisfied with their own health insurance and are now worried that they might be the big losers once Washington starts meddling. And for all the talk about the uninsured in the current health debate, the most important constituency in determining whether a health care package passes Congress may turn out to be the happily insured.
According to the latest Rasmussen poll on the topic, 80 percent of Americans who already have health insurance rate their coverage as good or excellent. But it isn't just the Rasmussen poll that finds Americans generally happy with their own coverage. A similar poll by the Washington Post/ABC poll in June found that 81 percent of Americans were somewhat or very satisfied with their insurance, and an even higher proportion -- 83 percent -- felt the same way about the health care they receive.
We sometimes forget that the overwhelming majority of Americans -- over 250 million people -- already have health insurance of one sort or another. Any "reform" that reduces the range of services and choices available to the already insured or taxes their benefits will leave this group worse off than they are now. Yet these are precisely the kinds of cost-saving measures Congress must pass if coverage is to be extended to approximately 15 percent of Americans who don't have health care coverage now.
As members of Congress return home for the August recess, they are likely to encounter stiff opposition from constituents worried that health care reform will come at too dear a cost: higher taxes and worse care. Rowdy town hall meetings with elected officials in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas and other states have scared Democrats so much that they're now trying to blame the GOP for inciting the opposition.
President Obama's response has been to send out e-mails to 13 million people accusing those who question Democrats' health care plans of "filling the airwaves and the Internet with outrageous falsehoods to scare people into opposing change," and urging supporters "to fight lies with truth, and set the record straight."
But when it comes to truth-telling, it's the Democrats who have prevaricated. There is simply no way they can make good on their promise to extend health care benefits to over 40 million people who don't have it now without raising taxes, reducing benefits to those already ensured, or costing American jobs.
The president's plan is estimated to cost $1 trillion over 10 years. Senate negotiators are patting themselves on the back now because they've come up with cuts to the proposed plan that will save $100 billion. But there are precious few government entitlement programs that ever end up coming in on budget. The likelihood is that whatever the projected cost of this program, it will end up costing more than we anticipate.
Instead of trying to force an entirely new health care financing system on Americans who are generally satisfied with the care they receive now, members of Congress should be concentrating on a limited plan to assist those truly in need of health care who don't have the means to obtain it now. The number of people who fall into this category is far lower than the estimated 47 million we hear bandied about in political debates on the subject. That number includes millions who could afford to buy insurance but choose not to, as well as millions of illegal immigrants.
It would be far cheaper to come up with a limited plan that focused on providing care for the uninsured who are injured in an accident or who end up with a costly disease than to revamp health care for everyone. And if Democrats don't get that message soon, they will end up paying for it at the polls next year.