Commentary Magazine


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Everything but a Workable Plan

David Brooks sketches out the path to victory in the healthcare debate for Obama: feel-good dog-and-pony shows, Congressional wrangling, and a “set of all-night meetings at the end of the Congressional summer session when all the different pieces actually get put together.” What in this scenario is missing? Substance — the same central deficiency of  Obama’s non-existent healthcare plan.

For starters, there really is no “Obama plan.” Yes, he sent a letter to Congress suggesting he’d be open to this idea or that suggestion, but on his single most important initiative, we don’t know what he wants in any great detail, let alone in legislative language. In large part, that is because what he wants is unattainable: universal healthcare that saves money, run by the government. (And a unicorn on the South Lawn?) In the real world of Congress, Democratic healthcare sponsors have come up with a wall of opposition to a public plan, which critics rightly have called the camel’s nose under the tent for socialized medicine. And then there comes the cost. Yuval Levin explains that CBO analyzed the healthcare plan, not including the public option:

Just the parts they did analyze would cost about a trillion dollars, the CBO concludes, and for all that money would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by about 16 million by 2019. In other words, having spent a trillion dollars, displaced millions of families who now have employer-based insurance, and created a vast new health care bureaucracy whose costs would continue to balloon, we will still have about 37 million uninsured people—or about the same number as in 2000.

If the government did nothing new, CBO says the uninsured would be 19% of the non-elderly population in 2019. If they implemented the Democrats’ proposal, the uninsured would be 13% of the non-elderly population.

So Obama has some fundamental problems starting with there not being a funding mechanism for a hugely expensive plan that doesn’t accomplish much. We’ll see if given all that, Brooks’s rosy scenario pans out.