Paul Krugman: Health Reform Myths
Don't believe the "three big myths" about health care reform:
Health Reform Myths, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Health reform is back from the dead. Many Democrats have realized that their electoral prospects will be better if they can point to a real accomplishment. Polling on reform — which was never as negative as portrayed — shows signs of improving. And I’ve been really impressed by the passion and energy of this guy Barack Obama. Where was he last year?
But reform still has to run a gantlet of misinformation and outright lies. So let me address three big myths about the proposed reform...
The first of these myths, which has been all over the airwaves lately, is the claim that President Obama is proposing a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy, the share of G.D.P. currently spent on health.
Well,.... Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs already pay for almost half of American health care, while private insurance pays for barely more than a third (the rest is mostly out-of-pocket expenses). And the great bulk of that private insurance is provided via employee plans, which are both subsidized with tax exemptions and tightly regulated.
The only part of health care in which there isn’t already a lot of federal intervention is the market in which individuals who can’t get employment-based coverage buy their own insurance. And that market ... is a disaster — no coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, coverage dropped when you get sick, and huge premium increases in the middle of an economic crisis. It’s this sector, plus the plight of Americans with no insurance at all, that reform aims to fix. What’s wrong with that?
The second myth is that the proposed reform does nothing to control costs. To support this claim, critics point to reports by the Medicare actuary... The actuary’s assessment of the Senate bill ... finds that it would raise total health care spending by less than 1 percent, while extending coverage to 34 million Americans... That’s a large expansion in coverage at an essentially trivial cost.
And it gets better ... further into the future: the Congressional Budget Office has just concluded, in a new report, that the arithmetic of reform will look better in its second decade than it did in its first.
Furthermore, there’s good reason to believe that all such estimates are too pessimistic. ... Realistically, health reform is likely to do much better at controlling costs than any of the official projections suggest.
Which brings me to the third myth: that health reform is fiscally irresponsible. How can people say this given Congressional Budget Office predictions — which, as I’ve already argued, are probably too pessimistic — that reform would actually reduce the deficit? Critics argue that ... when cost control actually starts to bite on Medicare,... Congress will back down.
But this isn’t an argument against Obamacare, it’s a declaration that we can’t control Medicare costs no matter what. And it also flies in the face of history: contrary to legend, past efforts to limit Medicare spending have in fact “stuck”...
So what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.
For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.
This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Posted by Mark Thoma on Friday, March 12, 2010 at 12:36 AM in Economics, Health Care |
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