Enzi: Health Care Law’s Legacy Is Broken Promises, Missed Opportunities

Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:25pm

In the history of our great nation, every major legislative initiative that has helped transform our country was forged in the spirit of compromise and cooperation. These qualities were essential to the success and longevity of crucial safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

In creating the new health care law, President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats failed to meet this standard. Because of the way the health care law was jammed through Congress, it will always be a lightning rod dividing the parties. The real legacy of the health care law will be increased partisanship, broken promises and missed opportunities.

During the health care debate, my colleagues and I voiced concerns with how the new law could cause millions of Americans to pay higher health insurance premiums unless serious changes were made. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the law would increase health insurance premiums by $2,100 for families purchasing coverage on their own. These concerns were ignored, and Americans are now seeing their health insurance premiums increase. Several states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, could actually experience catastrophic increases of more than 40 percent. Instead of lowering the cost of health care for everyone, this law will actually drive struggling middle-class families deeper into debt.

Republicans tried to include new ideas to address some of these concerns but were rebuffed at every opportunity. Instead of finding common ground on this important issue, Democratic leaders in Congress and the administration crafted this legislation behind closed doors without any input or contributions from the other side. The president repeatedly promised that negotiations for health care reform would be public and transparent. They were neither, and Americans are still struggling to understand how this new law will affect them.

At last count, the administration has issued 11,161 pages of new rules to implement its various provisions. This tsunami of regulations is expected to force 80 percent of small businesses to lose their current health plans, drive insurance agents out of business, define the benefits we must purchase and compel religious employers to violate their rights to religious freedom.

Over the next year, the secretary of Health and Human Services will likely make dozens of additional regulatory decisions that will have direct financial effects upon taxpayers, health insurers, providers, drug and device manufacturers and employers seeking to offer health insurance to their employees.

It is almost impossible to keep track of all the damage that is being done. This appears to be part of the administration’s deliberate strategy, to overwhelm opponents of the measure with an ocean of paper. The huge volume of new regulations prevents patients, employers and insurers from seeing the totality of the new law, such as the threat to our free market system as the federal government gradually takes control of the entire insurance marketplace.

This strategy also prevents the American public from having enough time to truly comprehend the regulations and understand how these changes will actually affect them and their businesses.

The most disappointing and disturbing aftermath of the new health care law may be the number of hardworking Americans who will lose the option to choose their own insurance.

The president repeatedly promised these Americans that they would be able to keep their insurance if they liked it. Unfortunately, we are learning now that this is not the case. Costly new rules required by the health care law are forcing firms in states such as Colorado, Indiana and Wyoming to drastically reduce insurance choices. According to the American Medical Association, these changes mean that four out of five metropolitan areas in the nation will not have a competitive insurance market. Less competition means higher prices for everyone.

One of the most compelling justifications for the health care law was that it would lower the costs of health care and save the government money. But the CBO recently released a new estimate showing that health care exchange subsidies are going to increase by 52 percent over the next 10 years. This means the nation’s bill for this entitlement program will keep rising year after year.

Even more disturbing, this report also acknowledges that 4 million fewer people will have access to health insurance from their employers, forcing more people into the government-
run Medicaid program. For the first time in estimating the new health care law, the CBO contends the costs of forcing more Americans on government programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program will surge and drive the gross cost of the new health care law to more than $1.7 trillion, almost double the original estimate.

Even after printing piles of money to pay for the president’s new health care law, and forcing thousands of pages of new regulations on small businesses, this measure will leave 27 million people without health insurance. Instead of trying to fix this broken law, the Supreme Court should strike it down and Congress should renew its focus on provisions that will actually lower health care costs, help employers and allow Americans to keep the plans they want. It is time for real health care reform.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a member of the Finance and Budget committees.