The health care law has the look of a plan that isn't coming together, and the administration appears unable to foresee the outcome and stay a step ahead of the potential mess. The Wall Street Journal's David Kessler totaled up the many changes and estimated 30 million to 40 million people will be damaged in some way by the new law. That's a lot of disruption to a lot of lives, even if President Obama, from his comments at last week's news conference, looks at it as a mere 10 percent to 15 percent of the population.
Instead of acknowledging the serious problems facing this cumbersome law and proposing remedies, the president downplayed the impact. His comments this week suggest that those with employer-based insurance won't be affected. The Washington Post gave those remarks "two Pinocchios," their way of saying it isn't strictly true. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports 7 million to 8 million will lose their employer-based insurance because of the health care law.
By now, you've heard nervous Democrats express their concerns about the far-reaching law that was hastily pushed through on a partisan vote in 2010. A key architect of the law, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that he sees a "huge train wreck" coming in the implementation of it, and — of particular concern to the Small Business Committee — admitted that "small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect."
He's not alone in his fears. His colleague, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, said the law is "beyond comprehension." These are not comforting words to the small-business owners scrambling to comply with new paperwork, costs and requirements. Henry Chao, of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of the officials responsible for establishing the law's information-technology structure, expressed his hope that getting the law into place is not bungled so badly that it becomes "a Third World experience."
From the beginning, everything about this law has been done in reckless haste. It was pushed through Congress, over the objections of the American people, and without earning a single Republican vote. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "but we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it." A law with consequences this vast should have been written deliberately, scrutinized objectively and debated thoroughly. The president said he expects "glitches" and seems OK with that. A glitch is what you call it when it's someone else's problem. I suspect the people dealing directly with the law's imperfections in the form of losing their existing policy, paying higher premiums or spending precious time and resources on compliance might find the term "train wreck" to be more on point.
Even now, this law should be repealed and replaced for the good of the American people. Those who have blocked that course correction and supported this law have a duty to aggressively move to prevent disastrous outcomes from a mismanaged implementation.
Small businesses say requirements of the health law are their biggest concern, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey released in April. That's just the requirements of the law they know now, before any glitches to come are added to the mix. It's also noteworthy that 71 percent said the law makes it harder for them to hire more people. This reflects what we heard directly from small-business owners testifying in an April 17 committee hearing.
The concerns of entrepreneurs are not misplaced. The law's burdensome new requirements fall most heavily on those who are least likely to have adequate resources. Small businesses don't have staff with the time and expertise to deal with the new system. It's a huge drain on these smaller firms. As Mr. Baucus noted, many are just struggling to know what to do. They're worried they'll incur penalties or unexpected new costs.
The Department of Health and Human Services exhibited disarray in April by announcing a delay in the Small Business Health Option Plans. Should we expect a string of announcements of delays, or quick fixes and a general lack of readiness? The president seems unwilling to fully acknowledge the scope of the task before him.
I am strongly opposed to the health care law as bad policy on a number of fronts, including economic impact on small businesses, and I voted repeatedly to repeal it. But as long as the law stays on the books, the Small Business Committee is committed to doing what it can to help entrepreneurs comply despite the obstacles. The committee has posted a compliance resource for small businesses and listed our top requirements for 2013 and 2014. In doing so, we focused on putting the new rules and obligations in plain English.
It's encouraging that there are sounds of alarm from some of the designers of the health care law. That's a start, but time is short, solutions are needed, and the president's cheery rhetoric won't get the job done.
Rep. Sam Graves is a Missouri Republican.