Interesting opinion from the WSJ, over the weekend.....any merit?
An ominous comment from a giddy Madam Speaker about a "very robust trigger" being included. An almost "payback" type of scenario.
"President Obama has decided that another oration will rejuvenate his health-care agenda—despite having given 27 speeches entirely on health care, and another 92 in which it figured prominently. We'll see how tomorrow night's Congressional appeal works out, but the important maneuvers are taking place in the cloak rooms, as the White House tries to staple together a majority.
The latest political gimmick is the notion of a "trigger" for the public option: A new government program for the middle class would only come on line if private insurance companies fail to meet certain benchmarks, such as lowering overall health spending or shrinking the number of the uninsured. This is supposed to appeal to Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who could end up as ObamaCare's 60th Senator, while still appeasing the single-payer left.
Liberals should love the idea because a trigger isn't a substantive concession; it merely ensures that the public option will arrive eventually, instead of immediately. Democrats will goose the tests so that private insurers can't possibly meet them, mainly by imposing new regulations and other costly burdens.
Keep in mind that every version of ObamaCare now under consideration essentially turns all private insurers into subsidiaries of Congress. All coverage will be strictly regulated down to the fine print, and politics will dictate the level of benefits as well as premiums, deductibles and copays. Under the House bill, a "health choices commissioner" will have the final say, no doubt with Democrats Henry Waxman and Pete Stark at his elbow, if not another part of his anatomy.
The same bill also rewrites the 1974 federal law known as Erisa that lets large and mid-sized employers offer insurance with little regulation. Many businesses—including Safeway, General Mills and Marriott—are finding innovative ways to drive down spending, largely with worker incentives to live healthier and be more sensitive to the costs of care. Many Democrats call this discriminatory.
In the individual insurance market, Democrats intend to outlaw medical underwriting: Everyone must be charged the same rate or close to it for the same policies, regardless of health status or history. But this "community rating" tends to price younger and low-risk consumers out of the market. In a 2006 NBER paper, Bradley Herring of John Hopkins and Mark Pauly of the University of Pennsylvania found that community rating results in an overall increase in the uninsured in the individual market, maybe as high as 7.4%. For that reason, 35 states have no community rating at all, and another six allow very wide variations.
The larger reality is that private insurance won't be less expensive until overall health-care costs go down. Democrats may be confused on this point because government, which paid nearly 47 cents of every medical dollar in 2007, simply sets lower prices when Congress feels like it. On average, doctors and hospitals are forced to accept 20% to 30% less for their services in Medicare. That's another reason insurers wouldn't meet a trigger's thresholds, given that providers shift costs onto private under-65 patients to make up government shortfalls.
Conceivably insurers could make their products more affordable by cracking down on treatments and refusing payment more often, much as HMOs held down spending in the 1990s. But both patients and doctors hated this "managed care"—and in any case, Democrats would find a new rationale for the public option in the inevitable voter outcry about private "rationing."
It's true that there was a trigger in the Medicare prescription drug benefit and the world didn't end. But recall the dynamics in 2003: The GOP decided that private stand-alone or Medicare Advantage plans should manage the benefit. As a concession to Democrats, they agreed to trigger a "public option" for drugs—in which the government would have bought them directly, with its typical "negotiating" tactics—if seniors didn't have more than two plans in a given region.
Today, there are 1,689 stand-alone and 2,099 Advantage plans, and on average seniors have 50 to choose from—and costs in 2007 were $26 billion lower than expected. For all its problems, the Medicare drug plan created more choice for seniors and more competition among providers to offer packages that they found most attractive, holding down costs. In short, it created the incentives for multiple "private options."
ObamaCare doesn't bother with incentives, instead merely increasing government command and control of private insurance while making it more expensive in the process. That's why a trigger will inevitably lead to the public option, and also why ObamaCare will make all of our current health problems worse. "