Health care reform's misconceptions and why it's now delayed

There are reports that a deal has been struck to move the health care bill out of committee in the House very soon, but even President Barack Obama is becoming resigned to the idea that he won’t have a bill on his desk until fall at the earliest. I’m with Ed Morrissey when he says that getting the bill out of committee and then waiting for weeks is a dangerous tactic that gives the illusion of momentary victory but in the long run hurts the bill’s chances with increased exposure.

Regardless of the timetable, this bill is a disaster that will do nothing to solve our problems with health care. I’ve read a few liberal blogs urgently insisting that the opposition get out of the way so we can solve the imminent health crisis. They’re coming from a few shaky assumptions. The 47 million uninsured Americans is a number that is being bandied about with near religious authority. The number comes from the Current Population Survey from the Census Bureau, and Keith Hennessey has an excellent breakdown of the actual data. Of the 47 million, 9.3 million are non-citizens, 5 million are childless young folks, 4.3 million are Medicaid or SCHIP eligible, 10 million are at 300% of the poverty level, and 6.4 million are people who, based on an HHS analysis, mistakenly don’t list their Medicaid benefits as health insurance.

So that leaves us with 10.6 million uninsured who don’t fall into the above categories. And by the way, 253.4 million of us do have health care. Thinking about those numbers should shift the priorities around a bit. Do we need to wipe out our current health care system for a number that’s smaller than advertised? I’ll leave that to you.

Another justification, made even by the President himself, is that public option health care is going to reduce costs and cut deficits. Step beyond the initial absurdity of the logic that increasing spending will cut costs. The fundamental truth is that the current health care proposal does little to bring down the fundamental costs of health care. What is being proposed is a shuffling of the costs from private insurers to the government. That isn’t going to result in cost savings, it’s going to result in fewer private insurers and more administration costs by federal bureaucracy.

And the size of the problem is likely understated. Medicare, when enacted in 1965, was projected to have hospital costs of only $9 billion in 1990. The actual number that year was $66 billion, and in the 19 intervening years the disparity between projection and reality has only gotten worse. If the CBO estimates $240 billion will be added to the deficit over the next ten years, you can bet that the actual amount will be higher.

It’s no surprise that a Wall Street Journal poll shows 42% of Americans think the plan is a bad idea compared to 36% that like it, and 47% of those with insurance disapprove. In addition, only 20% thought that their own care would improve under the current proposal. That’s why the current delay is more of a setback for public option health care supporters – the more time the voters have to stew, the less likely they’ll be to stomach this boondoggle.

The question then becomes will legislators listen to their constituents or be strong-armed into toeing an imaginary party line so a few can put feathers in their cap? If the latter comes to pass, the country will be ill-served indeed. Do we need to reform health care? Yes. But providing an all-inclusive government plan isn’t reform, it’s unsustainable cost-shuffling that will hurt us financially as a nation and won’t end up helping  us one bit.

Cross-posted at Wellsy’s World.