- - Thursday, November 21, 2013

Twenty years ago, Harry and Louise sat across a kitchen table and faced a mound of paperwork. They were distraught over being forced to drop their health insurance. They had to select a new plan from a list of government-approved options. “Having choices we don’t like is no choice at all,” Louise observed. “They choose, we lose.”

The devastatingly simple TV commercials, sponsored by the insurance industry, were widely credited for bringing down Hillary Clinton’s attempt to take over America’s health care in 1993. President Obama succeeded in getting his scheme through Congress by buying the silence of the insurance companies. Taxpayers will pay for it, and pay a lot.

The insurance companies eagerly climbed in bed with the president, seduced by the prospect of millions of new customers compelled to sign up under the individual and employer mandates. If the scheme failed, as the men in green eyeshades knew it would, the companies knew Washington would bail them out. The mechanisms for doing it are written into the Obamacare legislation, or the “Affordable Health Care Act,” as the White House now insists that everyone call Obamacare.

The guarantees are called “risk corridors,” which are designed to compensate insurance companies if more old and sick than young and healthy sign up for Obamacare. The corridors would offset losses if claims and costs exceed industry projections by more than 3 percent. The provision is a government money spigot only meant to be used in an emergency. To nobody’s surprise, we have one.

The hardy and persistent few who have wiggled through the firewall of incompetence to get to Healthcare.gov appear to be the sort who will be a heavy burden on taxpayers. Initial numbers reveal that older Americans are enrolling in far greater numbers than the young. Connecticut, Kentucky, Washington and Maryland officials say that only 20 percent of enrollees are between the ages of 18 and 34, and Obamacare only works if healthy customers who don’t file claims subsidize the old and sick who do.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wants to close the spigot with his newly introduced “Obamacare Taxpayer Bailout Prevention Act,” which eliminates risk corridors. The Obama administration knows how critical the bailout provision is to maintaining political cover for the health care scheme. He dispatched his troops of draw a Maginot Line around it. Gary Cohen of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tried to reassure state insurance commissioners. “The risk-corridor program should help ameliorate unanticipated changes in premium revenue,” Mr. Cohen told them. “We intend to explore ways to modify the risk-corridor program final rules to provide additional assistance.” Translation: “A bailout is coming, and we support it.”

Obamacare is the most universally reviled program in memory, and it’s dragging down everyone who touches it. The latest CBS poll shows just 7 percent of the public backing the health care law as it is. All the president could do to render this turkey — and it’s no Thanksgiving bird — even less popular is to borrow a page from another despised moment in history and proclaim a Wall Street-style bailout to insurance companies.

Congressional Democrats are just beginning to realize their peril. Another bailout of corporate fat cats will enrage their liberal base of contributors and voters. They’ll have to decide whether they stand with the people, and work to end this failed experiment, or stand with the insurance companies and President Obama to push his scheme to an end that will be very bitter, indeed. So far, they’re choosing, and the rest of us are losing.