- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2011

That’s nice of you, my fellow Americans - freely handing over some of your hard-earned dollars to poor companies that need a break. Except that the companies aren’t poor. They’re large, profitable ones such as American Electric Power Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Kroger Co., along with unions and local governments. And there’s nothing free about what you’re giving them. It comes in the form of taxpayer money that subsidizes the health care benefits they pay to their early retirees.

Sound crazy? Welcome to Obamacare.

One of the law’s lesser-known provisions is the $5 billion Early Retiree Reinsurance Program. Government plans received almost $300 million of the $535 million paid out in the last quarter of 2010. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System netted $58 million, and $142 million went to Michigan plans such as the United Auto Workers Retiree Medical Benefits Trust. Other recipients include:

c AT&T Inc. ($141.5 million).

c Verizon Communications Inc. ($91.7 million).

c General Electric Co. ($36.6 million).

c Gannett Co. ($938,551).

The program is, in short, a bailout. And you and I are paying for it.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only flaw in the president’s signature health care initiative. Its myriad rules and regulations have so many companies spooked (and with good reason) that the government has been issuing waivers left and right for months. The Department of Health and Human Services recently issued 106 temporary passes, bringing the total number of waivers to more than 1,470. If this law is so beneficial, why are all these exceptions necessary?

High on the list of Obamacare’s troubling symptoms is whether it’s constitutional to mandate coverage. Most people agree that health care coverage is a good thing and that it’s unwise to go without it. But can the federal government legally compel you to buy something, however well-advised it may be?

Of course not. It exemplifies the worst aspects of the nanny state. That’s why the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit recently ruled against the mandate in State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s bureaucratic overreach, plain and simple.

Let’s not forget the president’s oft-repeated claim that if you like your current insurance plan, you have nothing to worry about - no one will take it away from you. Surveys of employers show that at least 1 out of every 10 companies may indeed ditch the coverage on which many people rely once the law’s insurance “exchanges” take effect in 2014.

Why? Simple cost-benefit analysis. “Some employers, especially retailers or those offering low wages, feel they will be better off paying fines and taxes than continuing to provide benefits that eat up a growing portion of their budget every year,” according to an Aug. 24 Associated Press report.

But even employers who take such a step will have to grapple with Obamacare’s other onerous requirements. That’s sure to hurt an economy still struggling to get back on its feet.

As Andy Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants (Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s), testified before Congressin July, “I’m very concerned that in the coming years we’ll be unable to create as many jobs as we would like due to the increased expenses necessitated by laws such as the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act].”

Do we need health care reform? No question about it. But it needs to be based on personal choice and free markets. We need to find better ways to get care to the people who need it most. That’s not going to come from a massive system of central planning, which is what Obamacare is. It’s time to repeal it - and follow a better prescription.


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