CBO Estimate on Revised Kennedy Bill

The AP is reporting that a new estimate of the health care bill coming out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has a price tag of $600 billion, while covering 97 percent of Americans — a stark contrast from the $1 trillion estimate that covered a smaller number of Americans. However, the story is based on a letter from Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd reporting the CBO findings, but not any CBO report itself.

As liberal health care reporter Jonathan Cohn acknowledges, the $600 billion number does not actually include the expansion of Medicaid, which is expected to add about 20 million people to the program’s rolls. Add that, Cohn writes, and you’re likely looking at a bill that costs $1 trillion to $1.3 trillion over 10 years. He suggests that it will be deficit neutral once you factor in proposed cuts to Medicare, other savings, and tax increases.

The problem is, there’s a big debate over how to raise revenue. Obama’s proposal to cap the charitable deduction on wealthy Americans is not popular on the Hill, while the idea of taxing employer benefits has drawn fire of unions. That said, I’m going to reserve further comment until I can look at the actual CBO findings.

Government Efficiency at Work

The WSJ editorial page uses news of recent busts of a Medicare fraud ring to make an important point:

One of the purported benefits of nationalized health care is that it will be more efficient than private insurers since it would lack the profit motive and have lower administrative expenses, like Medicare. But one reason entitlement programs are so easy to defraud is precisely because they don’t have those overhead costs — they automatically pay whatever bills roll in with valid claims numbers.

In fact, an estimated $60 billion, or 7.5 percent, of the $800 billion spent on Medicare each year is lost in fraud.

Stimulus Update: Unemployment Reaches 9.5 Pct

Unemployment crept up to 9.5 percent in June while 467,000 jobs were lost, according to the Department of Labor. May job losses were revised downward to 322,000, meaning that the pace of job losses has accelerated. There were 793,000 discouraged workers in June who stopped looking for jobs and were not counted in the unemployment rate.

According to my own calculations, about 2 million jobs have now been lost since the stimulus passed. So it’s pretty clear today that what we need to do this July 4 holiday is thank our dear leader, because things would have been a lot worse if he weren’t “saving or creating” so many jobs.

Help Me

During an otherwise dull health care town hall meeting on Wednesday, a woman identifying herself as Debby fought back tears as she described her health predicament to President Obama.

In 1998, Debby said, she underwent radiation treatment to kill a tumor — but the radiation caused other health problems, making it impossible for her to work. Now, she has another tumor, but cannot get it taken care of because she doesn’t have health insurance or qualify for government programs.

“Well, here, come on over here,” Obama implored her, motioning Debby toward him. “We’re going to find out what — we’ll get your information and we’ll see what we can do to help you.”

Embracing her, Obama reassured, “I don’t want you to feel all — like you’re alone.”

He then used her situation to illustrate a broader point. “Debby is a perfect example of somebody who we should, in a country this wealthy, be able to provide coverage for her health care problems,” he said.

The town hall meeting itself was highly orchestrated — with a small number in attendance and online questions being screened by the White House. Even none other than Helen Thomas complained to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the event being staged.

During the session, Obama received questions from an advocate of a socialized, or single-payer health care, a representative of the liberal activist group Health Care for Americans Now, and a member of the Service Employees International Union. “What can I do, as a member of the union, to help you with your reform bill?” the woman asked.  

But the moment with Debby stood out. It was the sort of human touch that Bill Clinton mastered and that Obama, though at times emotionally distant as a candidate, has grown more comfortable with as president. Back at a February town hall meeting, one woman — Henrietta Hughes — asked Obama for a home while 19-year old Julio Osegueda wanted the president to help him get better benefits at his job at McDonald’s.

No politician wants to tell those who are facing hardships that the government cannot do anything to help, but the result is a populace that looks to elected officials to take care of them. There’s no polite way of telling somebody who is suffering that government cannot insulate everybody from the vicissitudes of life.

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings,” Winston Churchill once said, adding, “the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” And nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to health care.

Government-run health care systems might guarantee coverage to everybody in theory, but in practice they do not. “Access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” the chief justice of the Canadian Supreme Court wrote in a 2005 decision. The ruling came in a case brought by a Quebec man who was told he would have to wait a year for hip surgery in the country’s single-payer system, which rations care to save costs.

Shona Holmes, an Ontario woman, was forced to travel to the United States to seek urgent treatment for her brain tumor after she was told she would have to wait 6 months in Canada, by which point she says she would have died. Of course, if Obama gets his way and government takes over health care in America, then stories of Canadians like Shona won’t have happy endings.

Obama dismisses the idea that he wants government to take over health care as a mere “scare tactic.” In reality, Obama has previously said he was a proponent of a single-payer system and he maintains that it would be the ideal system if we were starting from scratch. At the town hall meeting, he said that in other countries a “single-payer plan works pretty well” because if “you eliminate private insurers, you don’t have the administrative costs and the bureaucracy and so forth.”

Instead of supporting single-payer outright, Obama has been pushing the idea of creating a new single-payer plan within the current system that people will migrate to over time. He calls this longer road to government-run health care a “uniquely American solution.”

But if Obama wants to expand coverage and reduce spending at the same time, the only solution is to ration care. There’s no way that the government can cut costs by eliminating “unnecessary” care without casting a wide enough net to prevent individuals from obtaining care they deem necessary. In the end, there is nothing more humane about a health care system run by the government. In acting to help the Debbys of the nation, Obama will create a new set of problems for many others.

UPDATE: The AP is reporting that Debby was a volunteer for Obama who received her ticket through the White House.

Talking Franken on MSNBC

I was on MSNBC earlier debating Open Left’s Adam Green about the impact of Al Franken giving Democrats 60 votes in Senate. Things got a bit testy when I challenged Green for promoting polls suggesting widespread support for the inclusion of a government-run plan in health care legislation. Not sure how well I made my point amid all the crosstalk, but the thing is that when the Washington Post asked people if they would still want a government plan if it meant driving private insurers out of business, support dropped to 37 percent. The response I got was that these things depend on how you ask the question — but that was precisely my point. Outside of Washington, people aren’t yet following all of the nuances of the health care policy debate, so it isn’t surprising to me that, when asked in a benign-sounding way, they’re fine with a government plan. However, as more people follow the debate and they begin to hear the counterarguments, support will drop. The Post poll just demonstrates how malleable public opinion is when it comes to health care.

Obama Health Care Town Hall

Expect to have more later, but worth noting for now that the just concluded Obama health care town hall meeting included questions from a single-payer advocate, a liberal activist from Health Care for Americans now, and a member of the SEIU, who asked what she could do to help Obama pass health care reform. Not much news generated, but I’m sure the media will focus on the moment when Obama hugged and promised to help a woman who said she has a tumor that she cannot afford to get treated.

Obama’s Cloudy Crystal Ball

Today’s New York Times explores why the White House was wildly off in its employment projections when it was trying to sell the stimulus package. If you remember, the economic team said that if we passed the stimulus, unemployment would be around 8 percent now and without it, we’d be looking at unemployment in the double digits. Well, we passed the stimulus, and unemployment is 9.4 percent anyway, and the White House now concedes it will rise above 10 percent. The Times notes that, “In concrete terms, the difference between the situation that the Obama advisers predicted and the one that has come to pass is about 2.5 million jobs.”

The White House has offered two main explanations for why their estimates were way off. One is that only a small amount of the stimulus money has been deployed thus far. But I find that rather amusing, because at the time the stimulus was being debated, one of the very arguments critics were making against the package was that it was too focused on long-term projects and that most of the money would not get deployed for years. “I think there’s a lot of slow moving government spending in this program that won’t work,” John Boehner said on “Meet the Press” during the debate.

The other argument the White House has made is that the economy has deteriorated much more than anybody anticipated. In last week’s press conference, Obama said, “keep in mind the stimulus package was the first thing we did, and we did it a couple of weeks after inauguration. At that point nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like. If you recall, it was only significantly later that we suddenly get a report that the economy had tanked.”

But this is just another example of Obama rewriting history, because when he was trying to sell the stimulus, Obama was talking about the economic situation in dire terms. In a Washington Post op-ed published on Feb. 5, in which Obama made the case for the stimulus, he began, “By now, it’s clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression.” So either he was lying then about the depths of the crisis to sell the stimulus or he’s lying now to defend it.

However, even if we give Obama the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that economic conditions are inherently unpredictable, why should we then trust the economic projections the White House is making to sell other items on his domestic agenda? If his economic team was 2.5 million jobs off — and counting — in projecting unemployment just a few months into the future, how on earth can we trust their claims about all the money preventive care, information technology, and other such measures will save us on health care 10 or 20 years from now?