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Zach Lahn, a senior at the University of Colorado, made news Saturday by challenging President Barack Obama to an “Oxford-style” debate over the health care bill during a town hall meeting. This is Lahn’s response to Obama’s answer, which touted the merits of a system with a public option.
While my faith in the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s town hall meetings has been fully restored, my confidence in the president’s agenda has not.
The question I asked was simple: How can a public and private entity compete given the advantages held by the public sector. I asked for no generalities or philosophical arguments — that’s all we seem to get out of Washington anymore.
What the president gave me was a combination of generalities, inconsistent comparisons and, yes, philosophical arguments. All of these I expected. what I didn’t see coming was a comparison of the health care plan to the competition between USPS and UPS and FedEx.
This comparison is absurd.
First of all, USPS is still losing money despite having an unchallengeable monopoly on first- and third-class mail. Or rather the public is losing money since we have no choice but to subsidize yet another failing government business venture. Further, the post office is not trying to set the rates for the entire postal industry, and they are not attempting to coach FedEx and UPS on how to run their business.
FedEx and UPS are doing amazingly because, in part, their main goal is to make a profit. They allow the rules of competition to guide their strategies. Equally relevant is the fact that they are allowed to operate free of any major business altering regulations. This would not be the case with the health insurance industry if America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 is to be passed.
How do I know this? If you want to do something that’s unpopular with Congress I suggest you read the health care bill. I did, and I was surprised. Here some key points:
If HR3200 is passed without significant alterations, insurance companies would be regulated more than ever, and plans would have to meet the government’s criteria of “acceptable coverage,” according to page 27, line 19 of the bill. The criteria is very thorough and it must include (no exceptions): hospitalization, outpatient hospital and clinic services, primary care coverage, coverage of supplies services and equipment of physicians, prescription drugs, rehab services, mental health and substance abuse disorder services, preventative services, maternity care, well baby/well child care and oral health, vision, and hearing services, equipment and supplies at least for children under 21 years of age. Phew.
Think you can escape health insurance all together? I suggest you read page 167 starting on line 15 where it states that if an individual fails to secure acceptable coverage, they are subject to a 2.5 percent tax on their modified adjusted gross income. For me this means that even if I have a high-deductible insurance plan with a health-savings account allowing me to be covered for catastrophic incidents and doctors visits with — what used to be — tax-free money, I will be taxed 2.5 percent simply because the government doesn’t approve of the way I want to pay for my health care.
Small businesses are also going to be affected by the “acceptable coverage” clause. On page 149 section 313, we find that if a small business fails to provide an adequate benefits plan (also determined by the government), it will be subject to an 8 percent payroll tax. According to a 2005 study done by Kaiser, the cost to the average company for private health insurance viewed as a percentage of payroll was 11.1 percent. Why would a small business, already struggling to survive, bear the cost of providing health insurance to employees when they can simply take the penalty, write their employees off to the government plan, and increase their bottom line? They wouldn’t, and the private citizen, though the demise of private insurance, will take the biggest hit.
The president knows all of this information: He knows that businesses will cancel health care policies to save money; he knows this will give the government more power over our lives; and yes, he knows private insurance will be crushed.
If this argument is really about what the president says it’s about — insuring those who can’t afford it and those who are seen as uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions — why is this plan not simply a plan set up to cover these people, to keep them from falling through the cracks, to give the low income citizens what is needed, while at the same time encouraging those who can and should be walking on their own two feet, without government assistance, to do so.
While I will give the President respect for calling on me knowing that I was a voice of opposition, I still in no way agree with the idea of a public option and I still wish to have a serious debate on the true issues of health care reform.
If the White House and members of Congress think it is suitable to dismiss citizens at town hall meetings who have genuine concerns simply because they are apparently too passionate about something as personal as health care, then lets have a civil debate on the real issues and answer some hard questions without using emotions, talking points or generalities.
I’m confident I’d still win.
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