Opinion

At health summit, forget Obama vs. GOP: How did freedom do?

The Obama health care summit focused on costs and access. But proposed reforms would wipe away Americans’ freedom of choice in this vital area. 

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President Obama’s bipartisan health reform summit was a good-faith effort to find common ground on how to cover more Americans and control healthcare costs. Democrats and Republicans agreed that our nation’s healthcare system is broken and riddled with fraud and waste. But to what degree Washington should intervene further in the healthcare market was where the parties greatly diverged.

It was clear from the meeting that politicians on the left believe Washington can fix the broken system through mandating coverage and creating a national health insurance pool. Politicians on the right, however, oppose the federal insurance mandate and remain weary of a government takeover of healthcare. 

At the summit, Mr. Obama calmly and confidently tried to assure Americans that his plan is a market-based approach that will improve healthcare choice and competition. On several occasions he compared it to the system for federal employees. However, he overlooked a critical point in comparing his plan to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program: The FEHBP doesn’t require federal employees to enroll – it’s voluntary! This was a very important issue to overlook.

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The issue of the freedom to choose one’s health insurance, treatments, and providers didn’t receive the national attention it deserves. Yet, everyone’s healthcare freedom of choice would be greatly altered through the kind of national health reform put forward by Obama and Democrats

Those who haven’t taken a close look at proposed legislation and the president’s plan were led to believe that health reform would give greater choice and reduce costs. But two important issues that should have received greater attention are: (1) the federal mandate to buy qualified health insurance and (2) the manipulation of the health insurance market. 

What wasn’t explained clearly enough is that the Democrat’s plan requires everyone to have federally qualified health insurance or pay an annual financial penalty. And the Secretary of Health and Human Services would have the final say in determining what’s covered in federally qualified plans. Ultimately, Washington would decide what constitutes essential coverage for everyone. It was good to see Congressman Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia stress this latter point. Meanwhile, Obama gave the impression he’s merely proposing a minimum benefits package, when in fact, federally required coverage would be quite comprehensive.  

Obama and Senator Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming greatly supported the idea of a new federal health insurance exchange. But they neglected to explain how health reform bills manipulate the health insurance market by giving subsidies only to those who purchase insurance in the exchange. Economist John Goodman notes that a family making $30,000 a year would receive a $2,000 tax break for insurance at work, but more than $13,000 if they enter the new federal exchange. Additionally, health insurance premiums are projected to rise 10 to 13 percent for those in the individual market who don’t qualify for federal subsidies, according to the Congressional Budget Office

The bottom line is that many Americans could end up paying higher prices for fewer choices through federally mandated health insurance that favors purchasing insurance through a new federal exchange. Call it whatever you like – government takeover or Washington power grab. But proposed reform certainly weakens Americans’ freedom to choose the type of health insurance and covered benefits they’d like to buy. 

Sue Blevins is president of the Institute for Health Freedom.

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