The Hidden Costs of Obamacare

The real surprise for taxpayers will be a few years coming.

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Cartoon showing Obamacare as a wrecked ambulance.

"The real measure of ObamaCare will be how many individuals think they're better off," write the editorialists at the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately for many Americans, the true cost of the Affordable Care Act may be hidden from view for quite some time. Such is the problem with deficit spending – it disguises the burden of paying for policies from those expected to bear it.

With Obamacare, for example, the people who get government subsidies will be able to see and enjoy the benefits of those subsidies right away. People with preexisting medical conditions will benefit immediately from provisions forcing insurers to cover them at an artificially low rate, and women who previously had to pay for some portion of their birth control pills will benefit immediately from provisions forcing insurers to cover the full cost of contraception. These benefits are easy to see and measure, and they make real people better off.

But with every benefit comes some corresponding cost. In the case of Obamacare, those costs are still mostly concealed from view.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Requiring insurance companies to provide ever more generous benefits and cover ever larger swaths of the population, even if they're already sick, will drive the price of health care upward. But it will take some time for those consequences to emerge and for consumers, already heavily insulated from the health care marketplace, to see and feel the changes. Similarly, promising to offer subsidies large enough to offset the increasing cost of health insurance means taxpayers are taking on a huge new permanent financial obligation.

Yet most won't even realize how heavy a burden is being foisted upon them. Many will go through the next few years blissfully unaware of how expensive the new health care law really is. Why? Because the majority of the program isn't funded with higher taxes that would at least give regular Americans a sense of the tradeoffs involved. (It's currently expected, on the low end, to cost well more than $1 trillion.) Instead, our leaders are leaving future generations to figure out how to pay for it.

The ACA remains incredibly unpopular. In a CNN/ORC poll conducted over the weekend, 57 percent of respondents said they oppose the 2010 law. Imagine how they'd feel if they knew how much it's really going to cost them.

  • Read Jamie Stiehm: GOP Government Shutdown Isn't About Obamacare, It's About Obama
  • Read Robert Schlesinger: Cruz, DeMint and the GOP Can't Get Their Obamacare Attacks Straight
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