Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Health Care Follies on Ice!

At last, some good news for the Republicans on Capitol Hill.

They don't have to pretend to support the president's new health care reform proposal. It will die in the car on the way to the House chamber.

President Bush's new idea for health care reform, which he formally unveils in tonight's State of the Union address, is perhaps the best evidence yet that he's drinking again.

Or maybe it's mushrooms.

You would have to be hallucinating to think anybody in Congress is going to vote for a law that would assign a cash value to employer-paid health benefits and then add that number to everybody's taxable income. Yes, the president proposes a tax deduction to offset the extra income, $15,000 for "families" and $7,500 for "singles," but that's where the thing really turns ugly.

The president thinks it would be a good idea for people to choose less expensive health insurance coverage, the kind with fewer benefits and higher deductibles and co-pays. The less expensive your health insurance, the more likely it is that the $15,000 or $7,500 tax deduction will cover or exceed the cost.

Follow that?

The president wants to use the tax code to push Americans to choose minimal, you might say crummy, health insurance coverage. If you currently have pretty good coverage, the president would like you to pay more in taxes.

The premise here is that Americans are luxuriating in unnecessary medical procedures. That premise might be wrong. It could be that Americans are simply receiving appropriate medical care recommended by their doctors. Could they make do with less? Is it the appropriate role of the government to force them to find out?

Health insurance is very expensive, and for some time now businesses have been pressured by rising prices into pushing more of the costs onto their employees. Perhaps we have reached the point where a significant number of businesses are about to stop offering health insurance as an employee benefit.

That would at least explain the president's otherwise inexplicable proposal. But it doesn't make it any more likely that it's going to pass Congress, or even survive the first House subcommittee hearing.

For one thing, the proposal will sound like highway robbery to people who don't pay income taxes, like all the families with moderate income who take advantage of child tax credits. At a thousand dollars a tot, those credits already wipe out the entire income tax bill for a lot of people, so promising that there might be a little extra tax deduction left over after the cost of health insurance is not going to be a selling point.

For another thing, health insurance prices go up and up and up. They go up as you get older. They go up if you get sick. They go up when the government mandates coverage for an extra night in the hospital, or mental health care, or erectile dysfunction drugs, or free medical care for people who just came over the border illegally in a crowded truck and now have a nasty cough that kind of sounds contagious.

Imagine getting a year-end statement from your employer that your health insurance benefit "income" is thirty percent higher than it was last year, and you owe tax on that money as if you received it in cash. Maybe the $15,000 deduction was enough to cover the extra "income" before, but maybe it isn't any longer.

Well, then, mister, you just call your employee benefits manager and tell that person you want some crummier health care coverage. It's the cowboy way.

The president is right when he says the tax code discriminates against people who buy individual policies with their own money. For example, employers who pay for coverage for their employees can deduct the entire cost of the premium, while self-employed people who buy coverage for themselves can deduct only a portion of the premiums they pay. The easy way to fix that is to make health insurance premiums fully deductible for self-employed people, not to make benefits taxable for everybody else.

But that won't happen either, because Democrats are dead-set against any policy that makes it easier for individuals to buy their own health insurance. When President Bush proposed tax credits for that purpose in 2003, Senator Ted Kennedy thundered righteously, "We must reject the preposterous proposal to misuse the health crisis as an excuse to modify the tax code and bestow even greater tax breaks on the healthy and wealthy."

A lot of self-employed people might take issue with that characterization. When you pay double Social Security tax and double Medicare tax in addition to income tax, "sick and broke" might be a better description.

Still, Ted Kennedy is a responsible adult compared to Hillary Clinton, who this week announced she will introduce legislation to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to all families who need it, "regardless of income."

Regardless of income.

That means the government will take money by force, through the tax code, from people who do not have children, and spend it to cover the expenses of children whose parents can very well afford to look after their own kids.

Then those parents can spend their money on something more pleasant.

How nice for them.

What is Hillary Clinton thinking? Are the Democrats all high? Can you get high from sniffing baby powder?

This business of dragging children all over Washington like Fagan's pickpockets has got to stop. The federal government cannot just chant "For the Children" every time it wants to take more of your freedom and more of your money.

Pick up the phone and call them, if you haven't already, and tell them to get their hands off those kids and out of your pockets. Seems like there's never a cop around when you need one.

Copyright 2007

Source note: The Senator Kennedy "healthy and wealthy" quotation appears in a January 21, 2003, Reuters story headlined "Senator Renews National Health Insurance Push," by Julie Rovner.

Editor's note: You might be interested in "The Tyranny of the Children," at www.SusanShelley.com.

Phone numbers: The White House comment line is 202-456-1111, the switchboard is 202-456-1414. Ask for your senator's office at 202-224-3121. You can find the phone number for your representative in Congress at this link, or at www.house.gov.