Arkansas Business - Tax Won't Make Health Care Affordable (Tim Griffin Commentary)

Op-Ed

By:  Tim Griffin
Date: July 16, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

By Representative Tim Griffin

As President Obama prepared to push his unpopular health care bill through Congress, he was adamant: Obamacare's requirement that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a penalty was "absolutely not a tax increase." He "absolutely reject[ed] that notion."

Now we know that President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid told us one thing and passed another. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the president's lawyers and upheld most of Obamacare by "sustaining the mandate as a tax." Asked to explain the ruling, Nancy Pelosi almost let the truth slip: "It's a ta-; it's a penalty," she declared.

Regardless of its constitutionality, Obamacare is bad policy, and most Americans know it. It's a 2,700-page law crammed full of tax increases that make it harder for businesses to hire more employees; no amount of word games can hide that now. But one thing is clear: If Obamacare's supporters had admitted that the core of the bill was a massive tax increase on middle-class Americans, it wouldn't have passed.

But it did pass, and I remain committed to repealing Obamacare in full and replacing it with real, patient-centered reforms that will lower costs by encouraging innovation, increasing competition, cracking down on frivolous lawsuits and reducing waste, fraud and abuse.

That's the opposite of what Obamacare does. Pouring money into a health care system with out-of-control costs doesn't address the problem; it subsidizes it. With the right kind of reforms, we can ensure more Americans get high-quality health care while controlling costs and making health care more affordable and accessible.

In many states, one insurance company controls a majority of the health insurance market. Limited competition like this keeps prices high, and Obamacare does nothing to change that. Real reform will expand competition across state lines.

Frivolous lawsuits also drive up health care costs, and Obamacare ignores that problem, too. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 40 percent of medical malpractice claims are meritless. A Gallup survey of physicians found that "one in every four dollars spent on health care each year is spent on unnecessary tests and treatments ordered by physicians solely to protect themselves against lawsuits." Real reform will address "defensive medicine" and stop the resulting costs from being passed on to consumers.

Patients deserve localized, specialized health care that fits their needs - not Obamacare's "one size fits all" system where decisions are made for patients by bureaucrats in Washington. Preserving the freedom of choice for health care consumers should be a top priority, and the federal government should empower states to serve as laboratories of innovation, each working to meet patients' needs better than the others. What's good for Oregon isn't necessarily good for Arkansas.

Real reform will reverse the rising cost of health care - and that's the first step toward expanding access. If health care is more affordable, it becomes more accessible. Providing government assistance to those who need it most will then cost taxpayers less.

Those who say Obamacare's mandate tax solves the problem of "free riders" - people who choose not to purchase health insurance - are focused on the wrong problem. The real issue is affordability. During a 2007 presidential primary debate against Hillary Clinton, then-Senator Obama said, "I believe the problem is not that folks are trying to avoid getting health care. The problem is they can't afford it." President Obama also opposed an insurance mandate before he was for it. As he said in 2008, "If a mandate was the solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house. The reason they don't have a house is they don't have the money." Exactly: The right kind of health care reform addresses the root issue of affordability before expanding access. Unfortunately, that's not what Obamacare does. It fails to reduce costs and simply raises taxes on some in order to provide health care at an inflated cost to others.

Government shouldn't ask hardworking Arkansas taxpayers to pay more in taxes simply because it has failed to adopt critical reforms. Unlike President Obama's law, real health care reform won't kill jobs or raise taxes on middle-class families. Let's scrap Obamacare and get health care reform right.