Parsing the President’s Promises
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Parsing the President’s Promises

We’ve said a lot already and will probably say a lot more about health care reform—its importance justifies the attention—but here are a few brief responses to President Obama’s remarks last night (based on the prepared notes posted at the White House web site).

If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction.

I agree that reform is necessary. The potential for cost-savings by enhancing competitive incentives and bolstering individual responsibility is enormous. The proposed plans currently in congressional committees go the wrong way, and therefore, inaction is preferable.

If you already have health insurance, the reform we’re proposing will provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you’re happy with it.

It is hard to believe that this claim is sincere. Obama has made a “government option” an essential element of any reform. A government option will almost certainly drive out private options, no matter how many promises concerning level playing fields are made. It seems reasonable to read this statement as, “If you’re very rich and money is no object, then you’ll be free to maintain expensive private insurance that contains all the special interest and ideology-driven mandates federal regulators will enact. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with government health care.”

I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress.

He’s on to something here. Federal employees don’t participate in Social Security, for example: they have a separate retirement program that invests actively in the stock market and delivers returns far superior to the New Deal dinosaur that the rest of us are compelled to fund [This claim in the original post is erroneous; see correction in comments below]. Any health reform plan must cover federal employees, including Congress. And no escape clauses (as in public schooling, which more than 4 in 10 congresspeople opt out of by sending their children to private schools): Members of Congress must be affected by health care reform in the same way that a majority of Americans are. So if a majority ends up covered by the public option, then every member of Congress must also be so covered (and no international medical tourism permitted).

Kevin Schmiesing

Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of