House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained last week that a new government health care system would provide “a cap on your [health care] costs, but no cap on your benefit.” Plus, she said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, there was an extra bonus: The health care bill “is a stimulus package,” implying it will create all sorts of new jobs. This is too good to be true.
Unless the speaker is planning massive new government spending, there is no way to have unlimited benefits when payments are capped.
While Mrs. Pelosi was promising no caps on benefits, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer was asking the Congressional Budget Office how more money could be saved. The Democratically controlled CBO pointed to limiting benefits in a letter released on Friday: “[C]hanges in government policy have the potential to significantly reduce health care spending — for the nation as a whole and for the federal government in particular — without harming people’s health.” Reducing spending would be derived by reducing benefits.
Contrary to Democratic propaganda, there aren’t too many people with private insurance who consume too much health care. Obama administration officials repeatedly point to tonsillectomies as an example of surgeries that are performed when they are not needed. We doubt that a lot of people have tonsils removed for the fun of it or that insurance companies are regularly tricked into paying for something unnecessary.
But for the sake of argument, let us assume that patients and insurance companies are uninformed. That doesn’t justify the government taking over the entire health care system. A less imposing option might be to spend more money getting information out to doctors and patients about the pros and cons of tonsillectomies or other supposedly wasteful procedures. But medical associations, medical journals and conferences already exist to develop such specific knowledge. It’s not clear what government brings to the table.
Massachusetts offers a cautionary tale about what happens under a state-directed system like the Democrats are proposing. Earlier this month, the Boston Medical Center, one of the largest metropolitan hospitals in the Bay State, went to court against the state government, claiming it is being shortchanged by $181 million annually in unreimbursed health care costs. This reveals that one way government caps costs is simply not to pay them.
Finally, there is Mrs. Pelosi’s claim that the health care bill is a “stimulus package” that will create new jobs. We don’t believe a government health program will reduce costs, but if it did, as the speaker claims, reduced expenditures on health care would mean fewer jobs in that sector, not more. She can’t have it both ways.
Government health care won’t be all things to all people, but it is being sold that way. Voters aren’t buying it. According to a Rasmussen Reports survey last week, Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, think, “No matter how bad things are, Congress can always make it worse.” That’s definitely the case with health care. Preventing Americans from buying the coverage they want will not make them better off.