Ready to cheer Obamacare? Not so fast

Ready to cheer Obamacare? Not so fast

Let’s all cheer, Obamacare is here. Or maybe not.
If you were one of those hoping that the legislation reforming our current health care system would include the creation of a government-run insurance provider to compete with private insurers and thereby supposedly force down costs, you aren’t going to get it.
Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination, has written to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to return the public option to the legislation.
“It is not acceptable for the House to simply accept the compromises made to appease members of the Senate, especially when those compromises weaken the bill at the expense of working families,” Sestak wrote. Sestak hasn’t said definitely whether he’ll vote for the compromise bill.
OK, no “public option,” you say, but at least more people can now get access to health care. Some estimated 30 million more Americans will be covered under Obamacare. That’s good, right? And it is, except for the fact that the only way to legislate insuring more people was to have the government force everyone to buy insurance. In the House bill you are fined severely and could end up in jail if you don’t buy insurance. The Senate bill is milder — there is only a fine — but it is such a light penalty that it’ll cost less to pay it than it would to get health insurance. What do you want to bet that all those mostly young and healthy singles who haven’t bought health insurance up until now are just as likely to incur the penalty than pay for a new, expensive health care plan. Besides, it may actually be unconstitutional for the federal government to force citizens to buy a private service.
Alright, so maybe this mandate thing is a bit heavy handed, but we’ve got to fix the system, you say, and we have to drive down costs. Health care is just too expensive. Well, you aren’t getting that either. As Katrina Anderson wrote this past weekend: “The proposed legislation would add $4,400 to the cost of health care for every man, woman, and child in Pennsylvania and reduce the state’s economic growth 5.1 percent by 2019. The Medicaid expansion alone is expected to require an additional $1.5 billion in Pennsylvania state spending.” These are costs that neither individuals nor the state can afford.
But that fact doesn’t seem to bother our elected representatives. Rep. Jason Altmire voted against the House bill because it wasn’t good enough on cost containment. But now that a “reconciled” version is going to come to a vote, he’s not looking to stick to his fiscal principles. “The only thing that will get me to vote against the bill is if it were to add to the deficit,” said Altmire. “The Senate bill is a much better bill on cost containment,” he added. It is worth noting, however, that the Congressional Budget Office, which scored the Senate bill, has strong doubts that the second decade of deficit reduction projections are even possible. “These longer-term calculations,” the CBO wrote in its report, “assume that the provisions are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades. However, the legislation would maintain and put into effect a number of procedures that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.” It isn’t as if Altmire can take back his vote if the bill ends up exploding the deficit.
One way the bill attempts to control costs is by raising taxes over the next four years so that Washington can collect from taxpayers before they have to start paying for the new system which comes online in 2014. So much for Candidate Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on anyone earning below $250,000 a year.
Now, broken promises are nothing new for Specter. He disenfranchised all who voted for him as a Republican when he switched parties earlier this year. His vote for health care reform breaks another promise, though — his signed Taxpayer Protection Pledge — which commits him, for the duration of his career as a senator, not to vote for any legislation that raises income taxes. This bill includes 18 different tax increases of nearly $500 billion over the next decade — billions of those increases are income tax hikes.
Let’s also consider Sen. Robert Casey and his role in getting this wonderful monstrosity to pass the Senate. At least he had the courage of his convictions, sort of. It was Casey, after all, who struck a deal with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), over abortion language. Under the compromise, government premium subsidies are segregated from private money so that no taxpayer dollars pay for abortion. Further, every state will have the option of banning insurance plans that provide abortion coverage from their insurance exchanges.
It was this language that got Nelson to finally agree to vote for the Senate bill. Well, that and $100 million, exempting Nebraska from ever having to cover its share of Medicaid reimbursements and paying for a new hospital in Lincoln. Casey is confident that his work on abortion funding will keep public funds out. “I think we got it right. I think the segregation provisions are strong.”
Pity that Casey spent all his time working out abortion language, which the Conference of Catholic Bishops says doesn’t actually prevent public funds from paying for abortions, instead of fighting to get Pennsylvania its share of the bribes Sen. Harry Reid was handing out over the weekend. Why should Nebraska, Vermont, Massachusetts and Louisiana get special treatment and lots of taxpayer cash, and not the Keystone State?
So once again, who wants to cheer for Obamacare?

(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, can be reached at