Obamacare not as bad as Republicans suggest

Rick Hanton

A few days ago, there was an article in the Daily about Congressmen Steve King, R-Iowa, and Mike Pence, R-Ind., who were at a recent Republican fundraiser, giving their negative opinions of various Democrats. They also made some notable remarks about their wishes to remove the recently passed Affordable Care Act — also known in some circles as “Obamacare” — from law as soon as possible.

After personally spending a lot of free time for a few days last spring pouring over decades of federal budget data, I have to say that King’s ambition to destroy “Obamacare” is dangerous for all of us, particularly anyone you know using Medicare. The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress, while imperfect — no thanks to the Republicans in Congress — is a step in the right direction for the federal government’s health care expenses.

Looking at the Government Printing Office’s spreadsheets of historical federal budget data, in my case due to curiosity about science funding, I saw the budget expanding over time in inflation-adjusted dollars and at the same time forcing smaller agencies of the government to make do with less. My first suspect for the cause behind this “ballooning” of the federal budget was the military, which consumes about half of the government’s budget each year.

But, over time, the military budget has been held roughly constant when adjusted for inflation since the end of the Cold War — whether it should have started shrinking at that time is an issue for another time. I was then forced to take a second, closer look to find out what costs were straining the government’s budget.

Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency charged with running Medicare for many of our fellow citizens, has seen costs explode in recent decades. If you look at the spreadsheets, while Health and Human Services consumed only 3.3 percent of the federal budget before Medicare was signed into law in 1965, by 1988 it had quadrupled as a portion of the federal budget, consuming 13.2 percent. Today the same department uses approximately 24 percent of the total federal budget to pay for health care for citizens over age 65 and disabled individuals.

The Affordable Care Act may have been implemented just in time to help save Medicare, which a few years ago started breaking the piggy bank, costing more than it brings in via taxes in any given year. The whole idea of the Affordable Care Act was to try to take some control of health care costs while still giving Americans more flexibility than other government health care systems around the world.

The exponentially increasing costs of medical care need to be brought under control. These costs have been increasing vastly over time, far outpacing the growth due to the aging senior population in the United States. Much of this growth has happened due to increasing use of the few doctors we — as a nation — have and those doctors’ use of more and more expensive medical technology.

Sure citizens’ — or at least their insurers’ — willingness to spend massive amounts on health care has fueled amazing technological growth in medical technology in the world, but at what cost?

Bill Clinton tried to address this growing problem back in 1993 but was voted down by Congress. In eight years, George Bush seemingly did nothing to address the Medicare problem other than signing a bill that added coverage to Medicare for prescription drug benefits for seniors but specifically prohibited the government from negotiating lower drug prices from manufacturers.

We should at least praise Barack Obama and the Democrats for driving legislation through Congress that addresses the issue of skyrocketing medical care costs and may help save Medicare. He accomplished what the others before him could not, and may have done so in the nick of time.

Unless Republicans have their own plan to fix Medicare and general health care costs that would be able to replace the Affordable Care Act, they shouldn’t be allowed to tear it down to advance their agenda. The thought process that drove the creation of Medicare as a form of social insurance for the elderly still makes a lot of sense, and there is no way I will vote someone into Congress who seems happy to tempt fate and have the Medicare system crumble around them.

Now maybe we should seriously think about raising the age bars of programs like Social Security and Medicare above 65. Maybe we should find other ways to fix their funding issues. But what we shouldn’t do is leave these programs to collapse under their own weight, leaving seniors out in the cold in the next few years.

Come back with more solutions and less unsubstantiated criticism, congressmen; and maybe I’ll listen next time.