Being a Republican is a lot like being a Yankees fan. They’re leading in the ninth, you’re relaxing and enjoying the moment, when the Red Sox suddenly blast a homer over the wall and the Yanks head to the dugout in defeat. Ballgame over.
Republicans, believe it or not, are in the best position since President Obama took office in 2009. President Obama’s approval ratings have tumbled and the public remains solidly negative on his signature healthcare bill, which looms like a funnel cloud on the horizon. Rasmussen reports that a slim majority of likely voters trust Republicans more than Democrats to handle our healthcare issues. Imagine that.
Even Democrats have winced over Obama’s two-step on attacking Syrian, his campaign for Larry Summers and the broadening NSA intrusions. His followers are dismayed that nothing is getting done -- not immigration reform, not gun control – his agenda is like last week’s cupcake, attractive but stale. The Benghazi ugliness and duplicity, the IRS targeting the Tea Party, l’affaire Snowden – all these things have dimmed his luster, offering Republicans an opening.
How does the GOP take advantage of this break in the clouds? By threatening the country with fantastical strategies to shut down the government unless the president tosses his signature healthcare program. Headed for the dugout, once again.
Before we roll our eyes and change the channel, however, it is worth remembering this: Obamacare is a terrible law. So bad that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have embarrassingly sacrificed principle and honor to protect their own staffs from exposure. Data points are streaming in; the bottom line is that insurance premiums will almost surely rise because of the Affordable Care Act, and the quantity and quality of medical care for most people will go down.
An early look at 13 states (including some high-cost states) where plan costs are published showed that premiums run about 24 percent more than they did before the ACA’s impact. An earlier study by the Rand Corporation concluded that premiums would rise on average by 22 percent next year, but also pointed out that the plans bought would be more generous. That may be, but one complaint about the ACA is that consumers may wind up with more insurance than they need or want.
One healthy Californian received notice from Blue Shield that his 2014 premium will be 153 percent higher – from $631 a month to $1,596. A younger fellow in his office discovered his rate was about to soar 60 percent. These are not political talking points – they are actual quotes. So much for the “affordable” part.
But what about the care? Even the Obama-friendly New York Times has weighed in on that issue. A front-page story recently detailed the narrowing of medical choices for consumers shopping for insurance on the new exchanges. Like Medicaid beneficiaries, many will discover that insurers have held down costs by underpaying doctors and hospitals--consequently, the best providers will choose not to treat these patients. For example, in California Blue Shield will not include treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center or the medical centers of the University of California in its plan.
What about the 49 percent of the nation covered by their employer’s plans? President Obama famously promised those folks that if they like their plan they could keep it. That is not true. Employers across the country are modifying their offerings to keep costs down and to skirt Obamacare’s Cadillac tax, which arrives in 2018.
Walgreen, IBM and Time Warner have all announced plans to move their workers off company-sponsored plans and onto private exchanges. UPS announced it would toss spousal coverage. Most common is a hike in deductibles, as with FedEx, which alerted workers that beginning in 2014 it will offer only high-deductible plans. The Kaiser Family Foundation says that roughly 20 percent of employer plans are of that ilk today, compared to less than 5 percent in 2006. Another Kaiser study revealed that the number of companies offering insurance is dropping – from 66 percent in 2003 to 57 percent today. Though the recession may have played some role in the pullback, Obamacare has been tapped as influential as well.
As dismaying as Obamacare is, it is the law of the land. In coming months it will evolve, and the best hope is that the most egregious problems are eventually fixed. Most alarming is that this convulsion of one sixth of our economy has done nothing to curb Medicare and Medicaid spending, which continues to threaten our long-term financial security.
The Congressional Budget Office recently forecast that the nation’s debt would soar to 100 percent of GDP in the next 25 years, driven mainly by health-related spending. “Federal spending for the major health care programs and Social Security would increase to a total of 14 percent of GDP by 2038, twice the 7 percent average of the past 40 years,” the CBO forecast. While even Social Security eventually plateaus, medical outlays rise without stopping – just like interest payments on the nation’s debt.
So, Republican legislators have a choice. They can let Ted Cruz define the GOP for the nation and the world as slash-and-burn nihilists, or they can take advantage of the president’s waning popularity to tame our crippling healthcare entitlements. To make, in other words, responsible reforms that the country would applaud. Senator Orrin Hatch proposed last January several measures to rein in Medicare and Medicaid that have earned bipartisan support in the past, and he has pitched them again recently, hoping to divert GOP energies more productively. They include slightly raising the age for Medicare eligibility, improving the Medigap insurance program and other changes that are reasonable and realistic.
Republicans should rally around such purposeful suggestions – and regain the mantle of prudent stewardship. That’s what has propelled them to victory in the past, and may again. One has to wonder, do the guys in the dugout actually mean to win?