By Tom Coburn, M.D. & John Barrasso, M.D.
Published by the The Kiowa County Signal on October 27, 2010
Before it became law, supporters argued the federal health care overhaul would become more popular after it passed Congress. However, more than two hundred days later, Americans remain deeply divided about the new law. Today, most Americans remain opposed to the law or are still unsure about the law's impact. And as Americans learn more about the new law, they have more reasons to be concerned about the future of our health care system.
Proponents of the health care overhaul often pledged that health reform would allow Americans who liked their current health plan to keep it. But In June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued rules limiting changes employers can make to health insurance plans, and still be considered to be "grandfathered" -- or exempt from many of the new mandates in the law. Under the Department's own estimates, more than half of companies may have to give up their current health coverage because of the new law by 2013. And, in their estimate, the Administration predicts that eight in 10 small businesses could lose their current health plans.
Supporters of the health care legislation said it would reduce the deficit. However, in June, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that, even with the new health care overhaul, "rapidly rising health care costs will sharply increase federal spending for health care programs." CBO Director Doug Elmendorf told Congress that the health care overhaul did little to put the country on track toward fiscal responsibility.
Advocates for the legislation also dismissed concerns we raised that cuts to Medicare to fund new government programs could also negatively impact seniors' access to care. Yet in August, the Medicare trustees' examined the nearly $530 billion in cuts to the Medicare program and concluded that "there is a strong likelihood" that the Medicare changes under the new law "will not be viable." This means that promised savings from the Medicare cuts are unrealistic and that future changes to the law could increase spending and the deficit. The official Chief Actuary of Medicare warned that "the financial projections shown in [the] report for Medicare do not represent a reasonable expectation for actual program operations in either the short range or the long range," and even issued a second analysis based on "more sustainable assumptions" that showed costs to federal taxpayers continuing to skyrocket.
The finances of the federal government are in even worse shape. This year the federal budget deficit is projected to climb to $1.3 trillion. Our national debt stands at a whopping $13.6 trillion. The interest that taxpayers pay on the national debt totals more than $20 billion a month.10 The outlook for the economy could get worse if action is not taken. According to a CBO analysis from earlier this year, "further increases in federal debt almost certainly lie ahead if current policies remain in place." "Persistent deficits and continually mounting debt would have several negative economic consequences for the United States," CBO said, including an "increase [in] the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis."
With our economic situation dire and our country's future hanging in the balance, the issues of the economy, debt, spending, and jobs are among most Americans' top concerns.13 A recent survey found that nearly nine in 10 voters were deeply concerned about the overall economic situation, with unemployment a close second concern.
Unfortunately, the overhaul that passed Congress this spring did not represent the real health reform Americans want and need. The new law focused on some of the symptoms in our health care system, but failed to address the underlying disease. For a majority of Americans, the cost of health coverage is their primary concern. For too many, cost is the access problem. Unfortunately, the new law increases costs to patients, consumers, and taxpayers, while exacerbating many existing problems in health care.
This report presents the American people with a second opinion on the economic and financial impacts of the new health care law. Americans have a right to know how their health care, jobs, and financial stability will be impacted by the new law. The health overhaul threatens our nation's economic recovery, increases costs, and reduces job growth.
As practicing physicians, we are committed to real health care reform. Costs are too high. Choices are too few. Health coverage remains out of reach for too many Americans. Interference from government bureaucrats and insurance companies is too constant and pervasive. We believe real reform begins with replacing the new law with sensible provisions that will lower costs, increase patient control, reduce bureaucracy and government interference, and put affordable, high quality health coverage within the reach of every American.