Saturday, January 31, 2015

'We Solve This Health Care Problem...and You Will Have Saved The Lives of Millions of Registered Voters!'

'President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and every elected Member of the US House of Representatives and US Senate now in Washington, DC:

'This message is for you!'

When Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman in 'Ghostbusters' makes more sense than most of our politicians do, you might want to think something is wrong.*

But seriously, how in the world can Congress and this President do anything that will 'save the lives of millions of registered voters?'

Perhaps by doing nothing.

'Nothing' as in the sense of messing up whatever seems to be going on in health care nowadays.

Granted, Obamacare has made what was a colossal mess before implementation in 2013 even more of a colossal mess after implementation.

However, recent reports have pointed out that overall health care costs are moderating to around 3.5% annually, down sharply from the 7-9% annual increases that occurred for most of the 30-year period from 1980-2010.

There is a wide array of opinions ranging from the ACA advocates who say it is because of Obamacare, which is sorta weird since the slowdown began 4 years before the ACA actually started, to the experts who point out the lingering effects of the Great Recession to hospital administrators who say they are doing a great job mitigating costs.

The bottom line, right now at least is this: No one really knows for sure.

Which is why maybe we shouldn't do anything on health care for awhile. If health care costs are truly moderating, maybe we should let it happen on its own. Changing laws and regulations all the time might be causing some of the upward pressure on costs in health care.

We have written many times, early and often, about the severe impact rapidly escalating costs in health care across the board have had on the federal budget. Medicare and Medicaid, the two largest federal programs have grown a couple of percentage points relative to GDP over the last several decades vis-a-vis the rest of the federal discretionary budget.

Military and VA health care costs have exploded as well to the point that a former undersecretary of defense readiness once told us what he laid awake at night worrying about:

'Sure I worry about Al Qaeda and the Taliban (all pre-ISIS) but what I really worry about is the ever-increasing share of the defense budget now being take up by health care instead of providing guns and ammunition and ships and fighter jets to fight the enemy!'
Health care costs as a percentage of the defense budget are now at an all-time high almost 10%, up from 4% in 1990. It is a very real national security issue and problem.

But, just for a moment, let's suspend disbelief and assume that somehow, someway, we have knocked the underpinnings out from under the health care costs spiral that has been out-of-control for most of our adult lives.

Here's the Long-Term CBO Projections link you may want to look at. Take a look at this January 2015 budget projection chart as well and see for yourself.

If what the optimists are saying is actually 'true', that the back of health care cost inflation's back has been broken and we are in for modest 3% annual increases in health care costs for the foreseeable future, we may balance the budget along about 2019 or 2020 or so by doing nothing else.

Think about that. Despite all the mistakes that have been made in fiscal, tax and monetary policy over the years, and all the aborted attempts at health care reform here, there and yonder, of which the ACA seems to be the most egregious still, we have a chance to balance the federal budget in the next 4-5 years through almost no fault or credit of our own.

It would be as if Tinker Bell waved her magic wand over everyone and sprinkled fairy dust on the health care problem...and it just 'went away'.

We are not in that camp of belief. We just can not shed ourselves of the fear that health care costs are about to spiral again out of control after decades of hoping for them to be tamed and cured somehow.

Apparently, the CBO is not in the kumbaya camp either based on their projections that show health care costs ever-increasing over the years for various reasons, mostly the expansion of the ACA without the revenues to cover it. They show escalating deficits after President Obama leaves office in 2017, not reductions, going to $814 billion/year by the end of the next President's first term in office.

As Ruth Marcus points out recently in her recent article 'The Debt: Mission Unaccomplished'despite President Obama's rosy scenario talk in his recent SOTU speech and his press secretary Josh Earnest cheering like the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders from the sidelines, one of the greatest failures of this President has been his almost oblivious disregard for the dangers ever-expanding debt can cause for our nation and futures of our children and grandchildren.

Maybe our health care costs are 'solved' as some wish it to be. And maybe CBO and every other budget expert will be proven wrong by health care costs dropping to  the rate of general inflation or less somehow.

As Professor Venkman told the NY Mayor, 'Lenny', if we do solve this problem, however or whichever way it happens, it will have saved the lives and the futures of millions of registered voters...and non-registered voters as well.

We certainly hope so.

(*if you can't see the video at the top of the article in the email distribution format, click on the link and you will be able to see it)

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