Monday, March 29, 2010

Rep. Joe Pitts on 'What's Wrong With Obamacare'

What's Wrong with Obamacare

By Congressman Joe Pitts

The Democrats' health legislation has now been forced through Congress and into law despite bipartisan opposition in Congress and widespread public opposition. Three dozen House Democrats opposed it. Every Republican opposed it. Only slightly more than a third of the public supports it.

Democrats were barely able to pass the bill, even though there are 75 more Democrats in the House than Republicans, and an unusually lopsided majority in the Senate as well. Only a year's worth of cajoling, back-room deals, demonizing of industry, and cooking of the numbers made it possible.

What will the consequences be? It won’t be pretty.

Not counting the new law, the nation's unfunded liability for entitlements is already $104 trillion dollars. That is seven times the size of the U.S. economy. That's according to Richard Fisher, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The unfunded liability is the difference between promised benefits and the money that will be collected in taxes to pay for them.

The entitlement crisis has arrived. This year, many years before it was projected to, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it will collect in payroll taxes. Former President Bush, with my support, proposed a plan to change the way Social Security is paid for to put it on a sound footing. After a shameful campaign of scaring seniors, Democrats defeated this plan without ever offering their own. Now, Social Security is well on its way to insolvency.

Medicare's problems are far worse. Medicare's unfunded liability is five times that of Social Security. Obamacare doesn’t solve this crisis. It adds to it.

Instead of finding ways to make these programs solvent, Congress and President Obama have hastened their collapse. By adding an entire new entitlement program we cannot afford, the solvency of the government itself is now severely threatened. The math just doesn’t add up. It is no wonder, then, that Moody's has announced it is likely to downgrade the government’s bond rating soon. The cost of that alone will be dramatic.

What, then should we have done instead?

On my Web site, I have a detailed memorandum outlining affordable ways to help the uninsured, to cover people with pre-existing conditions, and to achieve the other worthy goals of Obamacare.

The fundamental problem behind our entitlement crisis is the lack of free market forces involved. Already, nearly half of all Americans are on government healthcare programs that compete with no one. Even private insurance sees only limited competition, since the government will not allow insurance companies to compete across state lines.

Beyond economics and business models, however, we need an entirely new way of looking at healthcare. Early in this debate a Republican said, "We don't have healthcare in this country — we just have sick care." Americans wait until they are sick to pay attention to their health. The point is, as Ben Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Chester County's John Emmons works for a company called Mannington Mills. The company is self-insured, so every dollar spent on employee health comes out of the company’s bank account. John is the leader of the company’s wellness initiative.

The program offers free health screenings for early detection, a fitness center, offers health classes, a Weight Watchers program, a smoking cessation program, sports leagues, and wellness coaches.

John reports that "Mannington's health care costs have fallen both in 2008 and 2009. We're going for three in a row in 2010." Clearly, Mannington Mills is doing it right.

John says, "Unfortunately, our president and the Democratic-led Congress just wasted a year, further dividing the country and burdening taxpayers with a new source of debt. … If they are serious about solutions, perhaps they should come and talk with some of us who have done it, rather than twist arms, make deals and mislead the American people."

Health reform is possible. John Emmons' company has done it. If Washington had listened to John and the millions of Americans who think like he does, real reform might have happened this year. Real reforms would protect patients while lowering costs. Instead, our problems are now worse.

Rep. Joe Pitts is a Republican who represents Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District in parts of Berks, Chester and Lancaster counties.

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