If the Public Option is Dead: Then What? Print
By Sam Batkins
Thursday, August 20 2009
Massachusetts has failed. Despite the spending, the health care co-ops, the massive bureaucracy, and the mandates, 2.6 percent (over 168,000 people) of Massachusetts residents still lack coverage.

This week, opponents of a government-run health care system welcomed the news that President Obama might drop the controversial “Public Option” from his list of reform proposals. Despite weeks on the trail staging supportive town halls, the President is coming to the realization that there aren’t enough votes to pass his preferred version of the bill.

The public uprising over government-run health care is unprecedented. Rarely do taxpayers cause such a stir over a proposed government spending scheme. The Tea Parties have turned into a genuine grassroots movement of government foes determined to stand up against higher taxes and more reckless spending.

But, now that the Public Option is on the ropes, what’s next for grassroots activists?

Unfortunately, the fight against government-controlled health care is far from finished. Though the President is now wedged between Senate moderates, who refuse to support a Public Option, and House liberals, who refuse to support anything but a Public Option, only the rhetoric will change as government control is still the ultimate goal for progressives.

There are two main “alternatives” that taxpayers are likely to see as health care talks resume in September: “co-ops” and individual mandates similar to the Massachusetts model. Both are to be met with skepticism, and both would lead to rationing of care and fewer consumer choices.

For example, the health insurance mandate in Massachusetts has been an unmitigated disaster for consumers and for the budget. The Massachusetts Commission on Health Payments has already attempted to ration care by rewarding hospitals that cut costs and reduce expenditures.

This has not helped the commonwealth’s budget, however, as health care spending is projected to exceed budgeted costs by 21 percent. With all this spending and the mandate that individuals get insurance, taxpayers would assume that Massachusetts would have achieved the progressive goal of universal care.

No. Massachusetts has failed. Despite the spending, the health care co-ops, the massive bureaucracy, and the mandates, 2.6 percent (over 168,000 people) of Massachusetts residents still lack coverage.

As the Public Option loses support in Washington (for now), look to the Massachusetts experiment as a cruel harbinger of what could come if taxpayers fail to continue the fight.

Under the President’s backup plan, if you fail to obtain government-approved care, then you’re either taxed or fined. In Massachusetts the fine is $912, but Uncle Sam would likely impose a tax based on a percentage of your adjusted gross income.

In addition, look for premiums to skyrocket if a co-op is introduced. For example, in Massachusetts health care premiums average about $600 a month for individuals, with an average general physician wait of 50 days. Georgia, in contrast, a state that has not adopted co-ops or mandates, only has an 11-day wait to see a doctor, and monthly premiums average about $200.

Health care reform in Massachusetts has actually made coverage more expensive and more difficult to obtain. Look for the same results if Congress decides to imitate the Massachusetts model.

As Cato Institute health care scholar Michael Tanner noted, “The health care co-op approach now embraced by the Obama administration will still give the federal government control over one-sixth of the U.S. economy, with a government-appointed board, taxpayer funding, and with bureaucrats setting premiums, benefits, and operating rules.”

In sum, the Public Option may be slipping away, but taxpayers haven’t killed the specter of government-run health care yet. Whatever the repackaging, activists should remain vigilant and remember that politicians won’t stop fighting for more government control until they’ve been run out of office.