Freeman

GIVE ME A BREAK!

Congress Can’t Repeal Economics

DECEMBER 22, 2010 by JOHN STOSSEL

Filed Under : Health Care

It’s raining! I don’t like it! Why hasn’t Congress passed the Good Weather Act and the Everybody Happy Act?

Sound dumb?

Why is it any dumber than a law called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which promises to cover more for less money?

When Obamacare was debated, we free-market advocates insisted that no matter what the President promised, he and Congress couldn’t repeal the laws of economics. Our opponents in effect answered, “Yes, they can.”

Well, Obamacare has barely started taking effect, and the evidence is already rolling in. I hate to say we told them so, but . . . we told them so. The laws of economics have struck back.

Health insurers Wellpoint, Cigna, Aetna, Humana, and CoventryOne will stop writing policies for all children. Why? Because Obamacare requires that they insure already sick children for the same price as well children.

Sick Children

That sounds compassionate, but—in case Obamacare fanatics haven’t noticed—sick children need more medical care. Insurance is about risk, and already sick children are 100 percent certain to be sick when their coverage begins. So if the government mandates that insurance companies cover sick children at the lower well-children price, insurers will quit the market rather than sandbag their shareholders. This is not callousness—it’s fiduciary responsibility. Insurance companies are not charities. So, thanks to the compassionate Congress and President, parents of sick children will be saved from expensive insurance—by being unable to obtain any insurance! That’s how government compassion works.

In 2014, the same rule will kick in for adults. You now know what to expect.

This is just the beginning of reality’s backlash. President Obama promised that under his scheme no one will have to change medical plans, but some 840,000 Americans are already left without coverage because their insurer, the Principal Financial Group, decided to leave the market.

“[T]he company’s decision reflected its assessment of its ability to compete in the environment created by the new law,” the New York Times reports. “Principal’s decision closely tracks moves by other insurers that have indicated in recent weeks that they plan to drop out of certain segments of the market. . . .”

A recent bombshell was that McDonald’s may drop coverage for its 30,000 workers unless the Obama administration waives some rules. The central planners of the Obama administration decided in their infinite wisdom that all insurers should spend at least 80 to 85 percent of their revenues on patient care, a mandate aimed at minimizing administrative costs. It’s natural to assume that higher patient-care ratios are better for consumers, but there’s no proof of that. Health economist James C. Robinson explained years ago that “medical loss ratios” are just an accounting tool and were “never intended to measure quality or efficiency. . . . More direct measures of quality are available.”

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Insurers say dozens of other employers could find themselves in the same situation as McDonald’s. Aetna Inc. . . . provides [similar] plans to Home Depot Inc., Disney Worldwide Services, CVS Caremark Corp., Staples Inc. and Blockbuster Inc., among others, according to an Aetna client list.”

McDonald’s may get a waiver, but I like the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon’s take on that: “Sorry, but I don’t find it comforting that Obamacare gives HHS the power to waive these regulations on a case-by-case basis. Power corrupts. We’ve already seen HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius use other powers granted her by Obamacare to threaten insurers who contradict the party line.”

In a letter to the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, Sebelius wrote there would be “zero tolerance” for companies that attribute “unjustified rate increases” to Obamacare. “Simply stated,” she wrote, “we will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections.”

In other words: “We have repealed the basic laws of economics. Insurance companies must now give people more but not charge them for it. If you do charge more, you must not tell your customers why. Shut up, obey, and don’t complain. We are your rulers.”

Copyright 2011 by JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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