Dick Armey, Texas Republican, is the former U.S. House majority leader and chairman of FreedomWorks.
Two hundred billion dollars in new insurance premiums per year. And $463,000,000,000 in taxpayer subsidies over the next 10 years. That's how much health insurance companies could reap if any of the major healthcare bills become law. That's because they all include an "individual mandate"—a requirement that every American purchase health insurance or be fined—a policy that candidate Barack Obama opposed but that President Barack Obama supports.
"Hallelujah!" is how former health insurance executive Robert Laszewski summed up the industry's reaction. "It's a great boondoggle for the insurance companies," said Chuck Loveless of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. "Like a dream come true" for insurers, said Justin Ruben of MoveOn.org.
I couldn't agree more.
Only the most blinkered of partisans can look at the "individual mandate" and not see it as the answer to the health insurance industry's prayers. It is a law that forces everyone to buy its product. What industry would not want this? Imagine the glee at McDonald's if the government made us eat hamburgers every day. Even better if the government provided $46 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies to ensure everyone ate the congressionally mandated minimum.
That's what the individual mandate does for the health insurance industry. Not only would it force us to buy health insurance, but the 535 members of Congress, after hearing from every health insurance lobbyist in Washington, would decide exactly what coverage we need. Special interest lobbying at the state level has produced a dizzying array of 2,133 coverage requirements across the 50 states for products to qualify as "health insurance." Mandated coverage in New Mexico, for example, includes kids' hearing aids, circumcisions, and smoking cessation. No kids and don't smoke? Too bad. Now imagine the beltway lobbying bonanza that will take place when the federal government decides what coverage every single American must purchase.
Of course the putsch is already on—according to OpenSecrets.org, the health services/HMO industry spent $63,311,507 on lobbying in 2008 and $34,646,637 so far this year. Why so much? With hundreds of billions at stake, it could be the best return on investment in history.
This summer, President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers reported that the annual premium for single coverage is, on average, $4,321. At that rate, adding the 30 million uninsured President Obama cites would mean $130 billion more annually.
That's big bucks for insurers. To get everyone on board, Congress is offering $463 billion in subsidies over 10 years—corporate welfare disliked by progressives and libertarians alike. The Internal Revenue Service will allow insurance companies and government agents unprecedented access to personal financial information to determine who qualifies for those subsidies and to see who must be fined—a privacy invasion with broad opposition. And the fine is a sticking point for those who blieved President Obama to be a moderate who would not raise taxes "one dime" on those earning under $250,000.
Fines forced on those unable or unwilling to follow the insurance edict vary by bill, but they all are substantial. The House bill would take 2.5 percent of our income, while the Senate Finance Committee bill would confiscate between $750 and $3,800 for disobeying. Those were considered a "very harsh, stiff penalty" by candidate Obama when they were proposed by then Sen. Hillary Clinton. In one presidential debate, he said, "Senator Clinton believes the only way to achieve universal healthcare is to force everybody to purchase it. And my belief is, the reason that people don't have it is not because they don't want it but because they can't afford it."
He was right, and he won the Democratic nomination in part because of it. Americans want portable and affordable insurance, not fines if we can't afford or don't want congressionally approved health insurance.
What we're being offered does the opposite. The Massachusetts experiment with the same scheme has left the state with the nation's most expensive insurance, with program spending up 70 percent in just three years and with a third of the uninsured remaining so. The cheapest insurance we can find in Massachusetts for an average family of four is $906 per month. In Iowa, it's $145. Different coverage, certainly, but at least in Iowa cheaper coverage choices exist.
Instead of forcing unnecessarily expensive insurance on us, why not simply let us purchase cheaper insurance across state lines? It costs the taxpayers nothing, immediately increases insurance competition, broadens choice, and, by making cheaper options available, would lower the number of uninsured.
Doesn't this sound more like what we've been promised?
Unfortunately, the rhetoric does not line up with the legislative reality. Rather than choice, we get force. Rather than lower costs through price transparency and patient power, we get taxpayer subsidies to pay for higher costs. Rather than examining how the 20 states without high-risk pools for pre-existing conditions could learn from the 30 with them, we get more federal bureaucracy. Rather than reforming problems like the tax bias that pushes employer-centered insurance that we can't take from job to job, we get a plan that reinforces that failing system with 46 million more customers.
And the "individual mandate" may be the furthest divergence from the rhetoric.
Exactly how does forcing us to buy only health insurance approved by the federal government reflect more choice—and how does this belong in a free society?
What do you think? Should Health Insurance Be Required of Everyone?