David Gratzer: Size of health care bill is an issue

One week ago, policy wonks and press were glued to CSPAN to watch the president’s bipartisan summit on health care. For most Americans, though, it was simply history’s longest photo-op — dull, tedious and indecisive.

One moment stood out as a symbol of everything thats wrong with Obamacare, when the president attacked Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., for daring to keep a copy of the Senates bill visible on his desk. Calling the mere sight of the 2,400 page, 425,000 word bill a prop, the president said that these are the kinds of political things we do that prevent us from actually having a conversation.

The attack was revealing. If legislators had a conversation about any other proposed bill, having a copy handy is considered a professional necessity, not a political obstacle. The president explained his new standards this way: the truth of the matter is, health care is very complicated we can pretend that its not, but it is. And so were supposed to believe that health reform demands endless, complex legislation.

There are three problems with this reasoning.

First, the longer the law, the more muddled the objectives. Obamacare is unpopular because it tries to do too many contradictory things at once.

The president’s plan is supposed to save money and increase spending by a trillion dollars. It’s supposed to cut premiums and insure more health services. It’s supposed to increase market competition and protect innovation, but it also adds countless new regulations to suppress competition, and then taxes innovative companies to fund those regulations.

Compare Obamacare to Canadian health care. As a physician trained in Canada, I have criticized the Canada Health Act, and I’ve written books on its flaws.

But at least it’s possible to describe the Canadian system. Thats because the Canada Health Act is just fourteen pages of legal text, or roughly 0.6 percent as long as the Senate’s counterpart. It’s no wonder liberals are as baffled by Obamacare as conservatives are.

Long legislation reduces transparency and increases the odds of unintended consequences. The Senate already had to repair one example in early fall: early drafts accidentally banned Safeway’s Healthy Measures plan, which rewards employees with a share of health insurance savings if they prove theyre meeting certain wellness goals. The plan has improved staff health and kept insurance premiums low. How many other accidents like this are lurking unseen in the bill?

Finally, a long bill is a partisan bill and the president knows it. In 2009, Republicans repeatedly asked Democrats to consider individual bills so they could vote for the reforms that made sense, and vote against those that didnt. Ironically, many Democrats now recommend the same approach.

Why does this matter? If leading Democrats allowed for separate votes on each issue, instead of demanding one vote on a single, massively unwieldy bill, then popular reforms would have been enacted many months ago, likely with substantial Republican support.

Democrats deliberately bundled the most liberal reforms in with the most popular centrist ideas to try to force the whole muddle through.

When Senators saw the deeply flawed House health reform bill, they saw an opportunity to add more inflating 1,500 pages to 2,400 pages with more pork barrel spending and additional regulation and rules.

When President Barack Obama saw a copy of the Senate’s legislation, he attacked it as a political prop that had to be hidden from the TV cameras.

And when the American people saw the proposed legislation, they saw a missed opportunity to address the deep flaws with the health care system. That is the reason why Obamacare remains unpopular despite the press conferences and the speeches and now the summit.

Dr. David Gratzer, a physician, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of “Why Obama’s Government Takeover of Health Care Will Be a Disaster” (Encounter Books, 2009).

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