Obama versus Insurers and the People

March 4, 2010

President Barack Obama’s obsessive, opportunistic demonization of insurance companies in his quest to pass his not-yet-written health care proposal is growing tiresome. Aren’t you getting sick of a president attacking American citizens and businesses as if they — not Obama’s beloved government — were the enemy?

His repeated implication that insurance companies are the primary reason for rising health care costs is politically expedient, but it’s still untrue. Government is the main culprit.

Throughout his yearlong push for Obamacare, he has called insurance companies every name in the book. He has blamed them for soaring costs, bludgeoned them for taking profits, condemned their executives’ salaries and savaged them for denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

He even says insurers are the final arbiters of who gets care and who doesn’t: “And insurance companies freely ration health care based on who’s sick and who’s healthy, who can pay and who can’t.”

Obama has framed the entire debate as if it were an insurance problem. In his theatrical speech Wednesday — while flanked from all sides by white-coated props — he said, “We began our push to reform health insurance last March,” as if the thrust of his health care efforts has been to rein in insurers and little else.

Though Obama surely hates insurance companies, we all know he is up to much more than just punishing them. This is about a government takeover, even if it takes several incremental steps. Vilifying insurers sells better than glorifying government to a center-right nation generally suspicious of government.

Insurance companies are not the main reason for our exploding health care costs. If they were, the solution would not be to increase regulations on them, but to deregulate them and let the market work its magic.

To blame insurers for increasing costs is to imply they are guilty of some kind of collusion or price fixing. Does Obama really believe we have an evil insurance cartel in America?

Could it be that their rates are symptomatic of higher health care costs rather than the main driver of those costs? That said, aren’t we likelier to see more competitive rates if we relax onerous regulations, such as laws preventing the purchase of health insurance across state lines (one of the many Republican proposals)?

It’s very clever — and reminiscent of his street-agitating mentor Saul Alinsky — for Obama to adopt the anti-government language of conservatives to use against insurance companies. They are “rationing” care, he says. No, they enter into contracts with individuals and groups to provide insurance coverage as defined in the contract. They don’t arbitrarily deny coverage if they have contractually agreed to provide it. But if they do, legal remedies are available.

I realize Obama has no qualms about violating the contracts clause of the Constitution and interfering with private contracts, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work in America. For him to suggest that insurers must be forced to cover pre-existing conditions is tantamount to saying the government is going to convert them from insurance companies to unconditional guarantors. How can you call it insurance if you remove their ability to calculate their own risk assessments?

If, in his dictatorial omniscience, Obama tells insurance companies what they must cover, how many of them will remain in business while forced to take losing deals — absent government subsidies?

Even if you believe insurers are culpable, you will still be hard-pressed to demonstrate that any insurance pricing abuses are responsible for more than a fractional percentage of our rising health care costs. Republicans made that point quite cogently during Obama’s bogus summit, and he didn’t even pretend to have an answer for it.

I believe our rising costs are attributable mostly to government interference with free market forces. The price mechanism is not allowed to work because, due to tax laws, most people get their insurance through their employers and don’t have to pay out of pocket for their own insurance and so the costs are invisible to them. They don’t base their consumption on what they can reasonably afford.

In addition, the government has mucked things up with Medicare and Medicaid, mandates insurance coverage for unnecessary procedures, prevents interstate insurance purchases, as noted, and obstructs health savings account reforms and tort reform.

By demonizing insurers, Obama is diverting attention from the real villain here — an intrusive federal government — so he can give it even more control.

The people know better, which is why he’s endorsing legislative shenanigans to get it done, despite condemning that approach in the recent past.

Oh, yes, and if you believe he’s going to rein in government costs and “fraud and abuse,” there’s some real estate I’d like to sell you at a fictitious address with a phantom ZIP code.